Coach Wes Hart’s first year as Alabama soccer coach was about as rough as a first year could go. The Crimson Tide won just five games in 2015, after winning 10 the previous year. Hart quickly turned the program around in his second year, nearly doubling the win total in route to the making SEC tournament.
In year three, last season, Hart decided to change up the team’s formation to a 3-4-3, and it paid off as Alabama won 12 games, one victory short of the most all-time in program history, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
“The 12 wins was awesome,” Hart said. “It was great for our confidence, it was great for recruiting, great for a lot of reasons, but I think right now it’s how can we build off that? Last year was 12 wins. This year can we win 14 or 15 games?”
Alabama begins that quest Friday night at TCU as it opens the 2018 season.
The big change in 2017 was the formation shift, while this year it’s who is standing in the goal. Alex Plavin, who only saw action in 2017 in a shutout over Ole Miss, is taking over for Kat Stratton, who finished sixth all-time in saves in program history.
Plavin showed her skill against No. 25 Tennessee in Alabama’s lone exhibition match in the fall. Plavin finished with four saves in the 1-0 shutout.
“It felt pretty good (beating Tennessee), because we lost to them 3-0 last year. So that kind of hurt, but this year we have new people and we’re closer than ever. If we continue to high press and buy into what the coaches are telling us to do, the sky is the limit for this team,” midfielder Taylor Morgan said.
The upset showed off the team’s motto for the season: Find a Way. Alabama found a way to win, scoring in the 86th minute after Tennessee hit the crossbar multiple times.
“We really did find a way when we did not think it was going to happen,” midfielder Emma Welch said.
While the keeper situation is different, Alabama’s front should remain mostly the same. Six of the top seven scorers are back for the Crimson Tide, including Abbie Boswell, who led the team in scoring the last two years.
Alabama’s schedule is ranked as the 15th-hardest in the country and it opens with TCU, which finished 12-7-3 in 2017. Yazmen Ryan, who finished with 13 points in 2017, Karitas Tomásdottir, who scored four goals and keeper Katie Lund return for the Horned Frogs.
Lund saw action in all 22 of TCU’s games and started 19 contests. She finished 11-4-3 while allowing just 13 goals.
“What we’d like to do is not treat TCU or one player any different than any other,” Hart said. “We want to put more of the focus, more of the emphasis, on us as a team and what we’re trying to do.”