Far upper left corner? And with some pace? It takes some guts to fire a penalty kick to that hard-to-reach nether region of the net with that amount of force. Sure it’s way outside the diving reaches of any goalkeeper, but fact is that’s a small sliver of space with the post and crossbar and the air beside and above just waiting to absorb some synthetic leather.
On a crisp, late-fall afternoon this past Sunday, Felicia Knox dared to go there anyway. And she confidently buried the ball right where she wanted to bury it. The home crowd roared. Victory assured. As it turned out, Alabama didn’t need the goal, but, at the time, it was a much-welcomed, late-game insurance cushion for this still-marching Alabama women’s soccer team. It made the score 3-1, killing all hopes of perhaps a waning-seconds goal by UC Irvine that would have tied the match.
For this unforgettable Alabama team, it was on to the Elite Eight.
Knox’s fearless blast, a rocket the UC Irvine keeper had zero chance of even grazing with her finger, didn’t just give Alabama some pressure-releasing breathing room. It sort of symbolized what this 2022 Alabama women’s soccer team has been saying to the women’s college soccer world all season long. Not just Go ahead, try and stop THIS. But Go ahead, try and stop US.
And over its last 19 matches now only one team — South Carolina in the SEC Tournament Final on November 6 — has been able to stop this historic, unflinching, relentless team from Tuscaloosa that has been defying the odds since late August. Yeah, Alabama women’s soccer — the annual emblem of mediocrity at The Capstone for decades — is now one win away from the College Cup, women’s soccer’s version of the Final Four.
Alabama Soccer and Final Four
Final Four? As in Final Four in the entire nation? As in the Final Four where coaches and players cut down nets, don commemorative T-shirts and caps and celebrate with confetti and dancing like it’s a championship in and of itself? Yeah, that Final Four. Alabama football won’t make it there this season. Alabama men’s basketball? Shoot, it’s never been there. Perhaps fittingly, the only team standing in the way of Alabama soccer reaching the hallowed Final Four stratosphere is a school synonymous with Final Fours. Just in another sport. Duke.
What most folks don’t know, though, is that Duke is a traditional power in women’s soccer, too. Not to the level of what Mike Krzyzewski built on the hardwood in Durham, but a national juggernaut nonetheless. These Blue Devils know some soccer. Since the program was established in 1988, Duke has made 25 trips to the NCAA Tournament, 14 trips to the Sweet Sixteen, 11 trips to the Elite Eight, and four trips to the College Cup, most recently in 2017. Three times, most recently in 2015, Duke has finished national runner-up.
And what team did Duke just vanquish over the weekend to secure its Elite Eight spot opposite the Crimson Tide this coming Friday night at the Alabama Soccer Stadium? South Carolina. Yeah, that South Carolina. The only team to top this Tide team since late August. Yeesh, you can almost hear worrywart Tide soccer fans exclaiming under their breath.
Yes, Alabama easily handled overmatched Jackson State in round one of the NCAA’s — routing the Tigers 9-0 on November 11 — before getting past No. 8 seed Portland, 2-1, on Friday and then UC Irvine on Sunday. All solid teams, no doubt — particularly Portland and UC Irvine. But Duke? Soccer giant Duke? A team in the Elite Eight for the third-straight season? A team that owns a 15-4-3 record this season, including an impressive 6-1-2 mark on the road? A team tired of getting oh-so-close to the very pinnacle of the sport in recent years and now hungrier than ever to finally hoist the biggest, shiniest trophy of all?
Can this upstart, white-jerseyed Cinderella, getting its first sniff of the Elite Eight in program history, really smite a team, a program, of this caliber, of this pedigree? Can Wes Hart’s keep-finding-a-way-to-win club, now a stunning 22-2-1 on the season, really take down the mighty soccer queens out of the ACC, a conference long known for its soccer prowess, and reach the prestigious College Cup?
Folks have been doubting this Alabama team all season, waiting for the Crimson Tide’s unexpected dream ride to come to a screeching halt. Waiting for this ever-expanding bubble being blown by this traditionally soccer-irrelevant school to finally burst.
Has that moment come? Is the time finally up for No. 1 seed Alabama? How in the world can a team that started the season unranked and nowhere on the map of women’s college soccer beat a No. 2 seed Duke team that on paper and from a historic perspective looks every bit like a No. 1 seed itself?
Knox and her comrades have already sent their reply.
Mosey over to the Alabama Soccer Stadium. Walk out onto the pitch. Venture toward the far goal, the one opposite the scoreboard. Take a close look at the netting in that goal’s far upper left corner. See those frayed, permanently over-stretched, nearly obliterated threads?
Go ahead, try and stop THIS. Go ahead, try and stop US.
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