A former player and coach at the Orlando school, Richter said she was thrilled to see her team come up on the screen during the NCAA Soccer Tournament selection show no matter which team the Tigers face. The fact that the opening round game is against UCF just makes this one more special than it already was.
"My first emotion is I'm just happy our name came up on the board," Richter said. "When you don't see teams as good as Florida and Duke come up there you think that maybe our region is down so I'm just happy to see the name come up. To be paired with UCF is kind of ironic, I guess. The seniors at UCF we recruited, we never actually coached them. We left after signing day so there will be a little side agenda to the game. We just want to go out and play we no matter who we're playing."
Entering Friday's 3:30 p.m. CST start with a record of 14-4-2, the regular season SEC Champion Tigers will face a team that comes into the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak. Currently 18-4 overall after winning the TAAC Championship last week, the Golden Knights field a team led by eight seniors recruited by Richter and Assistant Coach Matt Mott. That makes this game special not only for the coaches but the Auburn players, who can already tell this game is a big one for their coaches.
"When I saw we were playing UCF that made me more excited," SEC Player of the Year Sarah Steinmann said. "I know that she is going to want us to beat them. We're pretty excited about that.
"I was so excited. We saw our name come up there so we were pretty pumped. We knew that we deserved to get in, but after the loss to LSU we knew that definitely put us back. We got a good rest this weekend so we're ready to go on Friday."
Leading the Tigers in goals and points this season, Steinmann has emerged as the top weapon for a Tiger team that set school records for wins with 14 and won their first-ever conference title. Winning the award for the SEC's top player last week before opening round 1-0 upset loss to LSU in the conference tournament, the sophomore said she was not expecting to hear her name called as the best.
"I was totally, totally surprised," Steinmann said. "I had absolutely no idea. I was pretty pumped. It was a reflection on what the team has done, not what I have done. I was pretty excited. It means a lot to me. It was a big honor and I'm just so thankful and grateful, but in no way do I deserve it. It's just a reflection on our team."
A participant in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, the Tigers will once again travel to a ACC host school for the opening rounds. After going to Clemson last season with a team comprised mostly of freshmen, Auburn may be more more prepared for what is waiting on them this weekend.
"Last year was very new to us," Steinmann said. "We had never been to the NCAA Tournament before. We didn't really know everything to expect. Being newcomers and fresh we weren't as into it maybe, but I think this year we know how significant it is. I think we're ready to go this year. Everyone is pumped."
Auburn isn't the only SEC team in Tallahassee as the homestanding Seminoles face the Ole Miss Rebels on the other side of the bracket Friday. The winners will face off Sunday at noon to see who advances to the third round of the NCAAs. Richter said that this should be a good situation for her team, going to a favorable climate and field conditions.
"I think the good thing about Tallahassee is their field is going to play similar to ours," Richter said. "The weather is going to be good and I've gone to NCAA Tournaments in Madison, Wisconsin when it has been freezing. The field plays fast and it's similar to ours. That's the real benefit about playing in Tallahassee."
Following a loss to LSU in the opening round of the SEC Tournament last week, the Tigers are once again entering a game where they will be favored to win. After failing in that position last week when they lost 1-0 despite having several chances to score early on against LSU, Richter said this experience will tell her a lot about this team.
"The next step for our program is to learn how to be a favorite," Richter said. "One of the crucial things is to never take any step of any tournament for granted. We're going to have a single focus right now. Hopefully, our season continues after that."