Soccer Tigers Begin Quest For SEC Title

Auburn, Ala.--It's time for Coach Karen Richter and the Auburn soccer team to reevaluate their goals for the 2001 season.

The Tigers got their primary goal out of the way, which was qualifying for the SEC Tournament, when they clinched a share of the SEC Western Division title with Mississippi State by defeating Alabama 2-1 in overtime last Friday.

Auburn is 9-6-1 overall and finished 5-4 in conference play to earn the No. 6 seed in the eight-team tournament which begins Thursday in Baton Rouge, La. It is the Tigers' first appearance in the postseason since 1997 and first under their third-year coach.

The Tigers will face No. 3 seed Georgia on Thursday in the first round at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on the radio with coverage by WELL 88.7 FM in the Auburn area. Mississippi State earned the No. 2 seed by virtue of its 2-1 double-overtime victory over the Tigers in the regular season.

Richter says her team's next major goal is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Auburn has two wins over Top 25 teams this season, including a 1-0 victory at No. 6 Virginia, but Richter says her team needs to add a win or two in the SEC Tournament to go further. "I think we have to beat Georgia and probably win the next game against one of the Mississippi (schools)," she adds. "If we win both of those games I think we will go for sure."

If the Tigers lose to Georgia, Richter says her team will be on the bubble to earn an at-large bid. Georgia already defeated Auburn in the regular season with a 1-0 victory at the AU Soccer Complex on Oct. 7, but Richter says her team let that one get away. "We outshot them and we played well," she notes. "We made one defensive error that they capitalized on and we couldn't finish. It was our first game without Sarah Steinmann, who is our leading scorer. That hurt us."

Steinmann tore the posterior cruciate ligament in her left knee on a play where she scored the game-winning goal vs. No. 16 Tennessee in the game before Auburn's first matchup with Georgia.

The freshman forward saw her first extensive action in the Alabama game since her injury and made her presence known by assisting on the first goal and scoring the game winner. She leads the team with 13 points and is tied with forward Tammy Waine for the team lead in goals with five despite missing four games.

"She obviously adds a significant amount of impact to our offense and we feel like Friday night she was about 80 percent," Richter says. "We're hoping with another good week she'll be even closer to being 100 percent for (Georgia). She makes all the difference in the world because she has the ability to create stuff all by herself."

Steinmann is not the only freshman who has been a big part of the team's overall success. Freshman goalkeeper Megan Rivera has recorded five shutouts and has a 0.91 goals against average this season. The Miami, Fla., native was named to the All-SEC on the eve of the league's tournament.

Richter installed a new offensive system after the loss to Georgia and it appears to be working well for the Tigers, who won four of their last five conference games after getting off to a 1-3 start.

"They haven't seen our different system which is good," Richter notes. "And we are playing real well. We are doing a good job of being able to score some goals. Things are coming together so we are hoping to peak at the right time."

If Auburn wins its first round game, then the Tigers will take on the winner of the Mississippi State-Ole Miss match on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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