Given the current pattern, it is easy to understand why Alabama women’s soccer head coach Wes Hart was excited for the team’s first day of practice for the 2018 season on Wednesday.
Hart, who came to Alabama in 2015 after a successful stint at NCAA powerhouse Florida State, and has seen steady progress in each of his first three years. The Crimson Tide struggled in his initial campaign, finishing last in the Southeastern Conference but moved up to ninth place in the SEC in 2016 and broke through last year, earning an NCAA berth — the program’s first since 2011 — with a 12-7-1 regular season record that included a 1-0 win over No. 6 Florida State. Alabama lost to Clemson in the first round of NCAA play, but the excitement from the year, Hart says, has carried over.
“It absolutely does have an effect,” Hart said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Players want to be part of programs that are winning, making a little noise. It’s not just being in the (NCAA) Tournament. We had some big wins along the way.
“People can see the trend. We were able to recruit some very good players. Our camps were blowing up this summer with people wanting to play.”
There will be areas that will require rebuilding, most notably in goal, where Kat Stratton was a standout last season, and in the midfield, where Celia Jimenez Delgado was an All-Region selection and an NWSL draft selection.
“I could go on and on about those two and other players we lost, but I think this year, we are finally at a point where we have enough depth to replace them. I know in my four years, this is the most talent and depth we have had.”
Redshirt sophomore Alex Plavin is set to replace Stratton in goal.
“She had some experience last year,” Hart said. “She’s been tested.”
While Hart said the Crimson Tide “would like to focus a little more defensively” with a new goaltender, he planned to stay with an aggressive offensive style.
Junior midfielder Emma Welch, also an all-region selection, returns along with two other top scorers, Abbie Boswell and Casey Wertz.
The Crimson Tide opens its home season on Aug. 24 against Florida Gulf Coast.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.