After the season’s first victory extended LSU’s stay at the SEC Soccer Tournament, Tigers first-year head coach Sian Hudson had this for her team.
“I told the girls we’re not going home today,” she said. “We’ll keep that message going throughout the week.”
Following a fall’s worth of angst in a winless regular season, LSU finally put it all together and the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
The Tigers followed the first career two-goal performance by redshirt freshman Taylor Dobles and sophomore goalkeeper Mollee Swift recorded her first shutout of the season in a 2-0 first-round Friday night victory over Alabama at the Orange Beach (Ala.) Sportsplex.
No. 14 LSU (1-6-2) advanced to the second round of the single-elimination tournament against No. 6 Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, which will broadcast by the SEC Network.
“I’m excited to see what this team can do now after sort of getting that monkey off their back, getting that first win of the season and going into the Ole Miss game with just a ton of confidence,” Hudson said. “I think we could have snatched a couple of wins at other times throughout the season and were unfortunate. I think the victory was full deserved.”
LSU followed the recipe of a strong start with a goal from Dobles in the 13th minute, solid defense throughout and an insurance goal from Dobles in the 88th minute to ease some of the difficulty in a season that featured three overtime matches that didn’t produce any victories.
Instead there were a pair of ties and a setback which were distant memories after LSU’s victory over Alabama, a team they finished in a 3-3 deadlock on Oct. 23.
“I think it was important to let the girls enjoy the victory last night and we’ve talked about switching gears and refocusing,” Hudson said. “We allowed them to have a little bit of relaxation and then got back after it with film review and scouting reports. I think they’re hungry for more.”
Dobles, a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla., had one goal on the season when she staked LSU to a 1-0 lead during a mad scramble inside the 6-yard box following a cross from Rammie Noel.
Tinaya Alexander’s shot attempt deflected off a defender and near Dobles, who won back the ball, and delivered a left-footed winner into the right corner of the net.
“Taylor’s somebody that’s gained in confidence and just her understanding of the game over the course of this season,” Hudson said. “She’s a wonderful person that wants to learn and grow, she’s always asking questions. She has such an appetite to get better and you’re starting to see with her performances in recent weeks. She’s a player that’s confident at this level, she wants to get chances around the goal, and I thought her composure last night was fantastic.”
Dobles added the clincher near the end of the match, running onto a well-place through ball from Courtney Henderson and rifling a shot on the ground from 10 yards out from the left side that got past a diving attempt from Alabama’s goalie and into the right side of the net.
“It was a great team win overall,” Dobles said. “I’m so happy we got our first win of the season. It’s just a start for the SEC Tournament. I feel great about getting both goals, but we just have look forward to the next game.”
Hudson believed the key to LSU’s defense was its ability to push Alabama’s offense out of its comfort zone and although the Crimson Tide held an advantage in shots taken (21-16) and shots on goal (10-7), she felt they weren’t from dangerous areas in the final attacking third of the field.
“I thought defensively we were really organized and compact,” she said. “We limited them to shots from outside the box and services from wide areas. We didn’t allow them any clear-cut chances inside of our 18, that was really positive.”
The other important of the Tigers’ defensive equation was the play of Swift, who finished with 10 saves in locking down her first LSU career shutout for the Tigers. So far this season in eight starts and 763 minutes, she has 39 saves and a goals against average of 1.42.
“I thought Mollee was phenomenal in goal for us,” Hudson said. “She didn’t give up any rebounds. She came off her line and claimed the crosses. Overall, she was phenomenal, and I thought (defender) Reese Moffatt was outstanding in the backline. Overall, it was a really solid team defensive result.”
The second-round match provides LSU with another opportunity to avenge an earlier performance this season where Ole Miss (4-4) scored on a second-half header in the 57th minute off a corner kick for a 1-0 victory on Sept. 27.
Ole Miss, which has have won three of its last four matches, provides a different matchup because of its size advantage over LSU in the 6-yard box area. The Tigers are going to need another solid performance defending corner kicks, which was a hallmark in their win over Alabama. The Crimson Tide had 12 corner kicks.
“We did exceptionally well at not only winning the first ball but also the knockdowns and being really efficient with our clearances,” Hudson said. “Ole Miss will pose a much bigger threat in that area of the field because of their height. That’s an area we definitely want to limit their chances and restrict them to serving balls to open players in the box if we can.”