Auburn Soccer Shooting For The Top

Auburn Coach Karen Hoppa leads her squad into the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season when the Tigers open play against Oklahoma State Friday.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite a No. 16 ranking national ranking, an SEC Western Division Championship and a 13-3-3 overall record, the Auburn soccer team will hit the road for NCAA play when it travels to the Tigers' postseason home away from home in Tallahassee, Fla.

Seemingly the venue for every Auburn team in NCAA Tournament play, the campus of Florida State University will be the host for Auburn's first round matchup with Big 12 Tournament Champion Oklahoma State (15-4-3) while the Seminoles (13-7-1) will take on Dartmouth (9-5-2) later on Friday.

A dangerous team, the Cowboys enter the NCAA Tournament on a roll. The number seven seed in the Big 12 Tournament, Oklahoma State knocked off number two seed Texas, three seed Kansas and defeated eight seed Missouri to win the championship. Auburn Coach Karen Hoppa said that the first round match-up is a tough one for her team, but she's anxious to get the tournament underway.

"It's a tough first round draw," Hoppa says. "They are real hot, coming off winning the Big 12 Tournament. That is no easy task. They put eight Big 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament so that's how strong that conference is. It's a tough draw for sure. We know a little bit about them. The good thing is that they play a two front, which will allow us to put more numbers in to attack, which we're definitely going to try to do. It's the NCAA Tournament so if you want be the best you have to play the best. You might as well bring it on right away while we're fresh."

The Tigers are fresh after dropping out of the SEC Tournament in the first round last week with a 2-1 double overtime loss to Georgia. After claiming their third SEC Western Division championship in a row with a conference record of 6-1-2, with the only loss coming in overtime at #8 Florida, the Tigers could have made a stronger run at a host bid by playing better in the SEC Tournament. Hoppa says that having a strong and experienced team makes a run in the NCAA's possible despite starting on the road.

"We've been playing almost tournament atmosphere the last three or four weeks because to win the west we had to win out," Hoppa notes. "Every game has that kind of pressure and playoff intensity. That's definitely going to help us in playing in a conference like the SEC.

"At the end of the year for us I think we're playing better than we were last year. We're playing good soccer, we're getting good chances. We didn't like to lose early, but the good side of that is we're fresh. We rested over the weekend and we'll be hungry, too. We're fresh and hungry, which will be two advantages to losing early in the SEC Tournament."

Sarah Steinmann leads Auburn into the NCAA Tournament looking to better last year's second round exit.

For Auburn to carry on in NCAA play, junior Sarah Steinmann must perform as she's done all season and last year when she was named the SEC Player of the Year. Leading Auburn in scoring with 11 goals and six assists, Steinmann has been deadly her entire career with the game on the line. In just three seasons she has 10 game-winning goals to her credit and if the Tigers can get to Sunday she might be just the ticket to the Sweet 16. This season she has scored seven of her 11 goals on Sunday. The junior says she's looking forward to another trip to postseason and going to a familiar venue like Tallahasee, where the Tigers played last season in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think it helps a lot that we've played there before," Steinmann says. "We're really excited to get another bid into the tournament. We don't really care where we have to play, we just want to play. We're real excited about going back. We were all discouraged after last week's loss. It was a tough loss. We anticipated to go further, but we're real excited to play in this third season. We're ready to get going in the NCAA Tournament and hopefully we'll be able to take it further this year."

While Steinmann is the star offensively for the Tigers the defense is all about goalkeeper Megan Rivera. The junior has allowed just 13 goals in 19 games and has 11 shutouts to her credit, which broke her own school record of nine set last season. For her career Rivera has 25 career shutouts, which is third all-time in SEC play.

Auburn kicks off NCAA play with a 3:30 p.m. start on Friday against Oklahoma State. Florida State and Dartmouth will follow Auburn's game with the winners playing Sunday afternoon for a berth in the Sweet 16. Last season Auburn defeated Central Florida in the opener before falling to the Seminoles 2-1 in the second round. This is Auburn's third appearance in the NCAA Tournament with all coming in the last three seasons.

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