By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
The South Alabama Jaguars Soccer program endured multiple challenges this season, such as losing their top players, COVID-19, and some early losses. As a team, the #1 East Seeded Jaguars went to the 2020 Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament with hopes to get their seventh conference title in eight seasons.
To do so, they would have to defeat the #1 West Seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves, who only allowed three goals in 12 games this season. It would be difficult against the Red Wolves as they are efficient in cutting attacking and passing opportunities. The Jaguars and the Red Wolves went into halftime with a 0-0 score.
Arkansas State opened the second half strong as they scored from freshman midfielder Hailey Cloud off an assist from defender Hannah Maupin. The Red Wolves were still displaying their ability to shut down the Jaguars offense. Jaguars head coach Ricard Moodie knew this game would come down to the last couple of minutes as they had to stay consistent in their conditioning and their pacing.
With 5:39 minutes left in the second half, Jaguars junior midfielder Morgan Cross came in at the right time to tie the game off an assist from freshman forward Kailey Littleford. This brought some huge momentum for the Jaguars as it felt like the game was slipping away. Cross came in clutch again for the Jaguars as she got the one-on-one attacking lane opportunity near the midfield, drove the ball, and scored on the highly efficient goalie of Arkansas State with two minutes and one second left in the game.
The Jaguars held on to beat the Red Wolves 2-1 for their seventh Sun Belt Conference Championship in the last eight years. Despite the threat of COVID-19, the loss of the most premier players in program history during the offseason, being down 1-0 late in the game, the Jaguars find a way to win a championship.
The Jaguars took nine more shots than the Red Wolves in the second half 13-to-4 as the Jaguars accounted for 20 shots compared to Arkansas State’ 8 shots. The Red Wolves’ goalie did save eight shot attempts from the Jags as freshman goalkeeper Allison Luckhardt saved five shots for South Alabama.
After winning the conference title, Coach Moodie reflected on the team’s success.
“I told them there are very few things that reduce me to tears in life and this was one of them,” said Moodie. “Just proud of them all, the adversity we’ve gone through, especially this week is unbelievable. So, to do what we do week in and week out to have what we have left in the tank to push those last five minutes and get the goals. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
After a tough and questionable offseason, the seniors for the Jaguars go out on top once again. Senior forward Ana Helmert is among those seniors to come back from Foley, Alabama to Mobile with the Sun Belt Conference Championship title. After the game and the celebration with her teammates, Helmert was asked about their ability to overcome challenges.
“I think it just shows a lot of how much we are disciplined and how much hard work we put into this year we basically had to stay around ourselves for the last three months and it really paid off getting to be here, I think our hard paid off in this game,” she said.
The South Alabama Jaguars will be back for next season with plenty of elite talent returning, including Cross and midfielder Brenna McPartlan returning as seniors and leaders. High-caliber defender Gabrielle Gayle and defender Tilly Wilkes will also return as seniors. The Jaguars are already planning for a three-peat to win their eighth Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship in nine seasons.