2022 SEC Women’s Soccer Preview
Can a national title contender emerge from the SEC in 2022?
A couple of teams knocked on the door of the College Cup in 2021, with two programs reaching the quarterfinals (Arkansas and South Carolina).
There have been leadership changes at several programs around the conference, as Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee saw new head coaches take over. Here's a rundown of what to expect in the 2022 SEC season.
2021 SEC Standings
Tennessee (20-3, 8-2)
South Carolina (14-7-1, 6-3-1)
Vanderbilt (8-8-3, 5-4-1)
Georgia (11-5-3, 4-4-2)
Florida (4-12-4, 3-6-1)
Missouri (6-11, 3-7)
Kentucky (1-9, 7-10-2)
Arkansas (19-4-1, 9-1)
Mississippi (12-6-3, 6-3-1)
Auburn (12-7-1, 5-4-1)
Alabama (11-10-1, 5-4-1)
Texas A&M (8-8-2, 4-5-1)
LSU (11-8-1, 4-6)
Mississippi State (5-8-3, 3-6-1)
2021 End of Season Honors
Forward of the Year: Mollie Belisle, Georgia
Goalkeeper of the Year: Ashley Orkus, Mississippi
Coach of the Year: Brian Pensky, Tennessee
The Crimson Tide managed to secure a spot in last year’s NCAA Tournament, finishing just above .500 despite conceding more goals than scored. Reyna Reyes remains a crucial figure in the spine along with Sasha Pickard. If freshman forward Gianna Paul can make an immediate impact, that could help jump start the offense.
Colby Hale has established the Razorbacks as perennial contenders in the SEC and beyond. That will be put to a stiff test this year after losing a strong group of seniors. Anna Podojil returns, along with Ava Tankersley, and the latter is one of the strong candidates to make up for some of the departures. Bryana Hunter also returns to anchor the back line. Expect to see Arkansas as a tough, determined side that is difficult to beat once again.
Another perennially strong SEC side, longtime head coach Karen Hoppa always has Auburn ready to compete. There is quality returning as well, in the form of Anna Haddock and Marissa Arias, who both earned conference honors last fall after combining for 16 goals. Replacing SEC Defender of the Year Alyssa Malonson is one of the big challenges this fall.
For the second year in a row, a new coaching staff is in place at Florida after they dismissed Tony Amato less than a year after hiring him. Newly hired coach Samantha Bolton takes over, looking to rebuild the program. It’s going to be a wait-and-see kind of season as the new staff looks to instill its philosophies and principles.
Speaking of new head coaches, Georgia made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason, bringing in national championship winner Keidane McAlpine from USC. Last year’s record was actually solid for the Bulldogs, with an overall 11-5-3 mark. Mollie Belisle had a career year, but graduated and is playing pro soccer. Keeping Dani Murguia for her graduate season will help the team cope with that, along with the return of Cecly Stoute and Abby Boyan. The pieces are there for McAlpine to keep this team competitive – and more.
Another program with a new head coach, Troy Fabiano moves to the SEC program after building a powerhouse at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It was clear how well-coached the team was, with a recognized style of play. It will be interesting to see how he approaches year one, and he’ll have All-SEC Second Team performer Jordyn Rhodes among the key returnees.
A strong non-conference performance propelled LSU to an NCAA Tournament bid. Head coach Sian Hudson has done a solid job of keeping the Tigers in the mix during the season, though improving in SEC play is sure to be high on the list of goals for this season. Replacing Tinaya Alexander’s production is going to be a key focus for the upcoming season.
There are some massive holes to fill for Ole Miss, which lost Haleigh Stackpole, Channing Foster and Molly Martin from last year’s team. That trio combined for 24 goals and 23 assists, a substantial amount of offensive production. Local standout Mo O’Connor fortunately returns, while the team was also aggressive bringing in transfers. Along with that, goalkeeper Ashley Orkus is back between the posts, giving the team a talented safety net.
Defensively, the pieces are in place for a strong foundation, between returning all-SEC performers Andrea Tyrrell and Maddy Anderson. Improving in the final third is going to be the main point key to success, as they scored just 15 goals last season.
There is ample room for improvement for the Tigers, as Stefanie Golan enters her second season at the helm. Improving on 42 goals conceded is a good starting point to build from as the new campaign approaches. Germany midfielder Milena Fischer showed quality with five goals and five assists and could certainly build on that.
Shelley Smith has done a phenomenal job during her time in Columbia, as the Gamecocks remain a national and conference contender. That was evident last fall as South Carolina came one game away from another College Cup appearance. This without a clear star or All-American talent (though returning center back Jyllissa Harris is extremely close). A quality recruiting class is set to join up this fall, and it’s likely to be another well-drilled team that is difficult to beat.
There’s a strong argument to be made that the Volunteers are favorites in the SEC after winning the conference tournament last fall. This despite Brian Pensky’s departure to Florida State, as the Volunteers promoted Joe Kirt, former Associate Head Coach, as the replacement. But their returning talent is what makes the group strong. That includes Mackenzie George, forward Jaida Thomas and rising sophomores Jordan Fusco, Taylor Huff and Claire Rain. Add in a talented class of newcomers and it could be a very successful season for Kirt.
By the lofty standards of the Aggie soccer program, it was a down year last fall, missing out on the NCAA Tournament. To be fair, it was an extremely young squad, which means this year’s group has plenty of experience back, including Maile Hayes and Mia Pante (the latter on U20 World Cup duty with Canada). Senior Katherine Smith and Karlina Sample anchor the team at the back, and their experience and leadership will be important for a talented group that should have the pieces in place to significantly improve.
It was a season of fine margins for the Commodores, as a couple of early non-conference losses all but certainly cost them an NCAA tournament bid (that, and a penalty kick loss in the first round to Florida). The foundation is there for a substantial improvement, as the experience of Ella Shamburger is back, along with Maya Antoine and Raegan Kelley. Getting a few more goals in support of Kelley, who led the team with eight last year, would go a long way in improving that margin.
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