At Alabama, the bar is a high one. The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be a national championship contender in football, but it is in soccer.
Alabama football has set it there. Success is measured one way in Tuscaloosa. National championships. Alabama football has won 18 of them. Alabama gymnastics has won six. Alabama softball has won one. Alabama men’s golf has won two. Alabama women’s golf has won one.
Conference titles are nice. And sweet. And rightfully celebrated. But teams and individuals chase after the biggest of trophies when they pull on the crimson and white. That’s the standard. That’s the benchmark at The Capstone.
Just a few years ago it felt like Alabama soccer was mired miles below that top-rung bar. Middling in a malaise of mediocrity. Season after season after season. Since its inception in 1986. Occasionally the team would poke its head just above the average zone, and often it would dip below the average zone. Not that anyone in these parts much cared. Or even noticed. Autumn is football season. Autumn has always been football season in Alabama. Football is king here. Football is what births national championships in Tuscaloosa.
Well, not this fall.
Alabama soccer, in fact, has been everything Alabama football has not been this autumn. The antithesis of Alabama football. Unranked, unappreciated and unheralded at the start of the season back in August, Alabama soccer has come out of nowhere to put together a season for the ages, a season for the Alabama history books. Multiple wins over highly ranked opponents. A dominating 15-game winning streak. A dramatic, soccer Iron Bowl victory on the road. A first-ever SEC regular season championship. And coming oh so very close to pulling off the first perfect stampede through the SEC’s regular season and postseason tournament since Florida pulled off the feat 22 years ago.
And on Monday this week Alabama soccer tacked on another first — a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which, in turn, has the Crimson Tide set to host its first NCAA Tournament on Friday. That’s right. Alabama Crimson Tide soccer didn’t just earn a trip to soccer’s Big Dance — which, in every season prior to this one, would be cause for jubilation among those who follow Alabama’s shinguard-wearing athletes. No, Alabama went far beyond just sneaking in. Alabama sprinted to the front of the line. The Tide is one of only four national No. 1 seeds.
Listen. Hear the whispers? Whispers of a … shhhh … not too loud now so as not to attract any rat poison … national championship? Those whispers are emanating from Tuscaloosa all right. They’re just not surrounding the Alabama Crimson Tide sport long linked to such whispers at this time of the year. Alabama soccer didn’t just arrive this fall. It blew the door off, barged in and took the entire sport by storm. Hello, women’s college soccer. We’re Alabama. And we’re here now.
Fact is, Alabama soccer isn’t just chasing the biggest of trophies in women’s college soccer, it is bearing down hard on the biggest of trophies, breathing right down its throat. With its No. 2 national ranking and its eye-popping 19-2-1 record, Wes Hart’s group enters the fall’s Big Dance with a legitimate shot at winning it all. The other three NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds are perennial women’s soccer power and defending national champ Florida State (13-2-3), the overall No. 1 seed, along with UCLA (17-2) and Notre Dame (14-2-3).
Alabama will host Jackson State Friday at 6 p.m. at the Alabama Soccer Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and will take on the Arizona State-Portland winner in the second round should it advance, as most expect it to do. The College Cup, featuring the sport’s Final Four, will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., on Dec. 2 and 5.
The biggest threats to Alabama reaching the College Cup? Most likely Duke, South Carolina, Southern California, Rutgers, Harvard, Texas and Portland, the Nos. 2-8 seeds in its region.
Perhaps a bit ironically, Alabama — a win-churning machine for the better part of two months — enters the NCAAs coming off only its second loss of the season — a narrow 1-0 loss on Sunday in the SEC Tournament Final to SEC soccer power South Carolina, a team Alabama defeated 2-0 during the regular season.
Alabama Crimson Tide setback a blip
How might the Crimson Tide respond after the setback, after the rare taste of disappointment this fall? Well, the last time this Alabama team failed to walk off the pitch with a W was on September 4 when it settled for a 1-1 tie with Utah. The Tide proceeded to reel off 15 victories after that. It won’t win near that many this time. It won’t need to. This time it needs only to string together six wins. Do that and Alabama will have ascended to that highest of bars yet again — this time, for the first time, in women’s soccer.
Yes, a national championship is well within this Alabama squad’s grasp right now. Directly in its crosshairs. Hard to believe? Well, believe it. Because it’s true.
Say it with me. Autumn. Tuscaloosa. National Championship aspirations. This. Is. Alabama. Soccer.
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