By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
The South Alabama Jaguars women’s soccer team returned to the dominant powerhouse in the Sun Belt by winning the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship with a decisive 5-1 win over the Arkansas Red Wolves. The Jaguars came in as the #1 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament after finishing the regular season with a 13-3-2 record. They were awarded the conference regular season champs as a result.
The Jaguars were determined to redeem themselves from last year’s disappointing season when they entered the tournament as the #5 seed and didn’t make the conference championship game. South Alabama had a tough opponent in the #3 seeded Arkansas Red Wolves. Both teams had not allowed a goal from a Sun Belt opponent throughout the tournament.
South Alabama came out on all cylinders with great, efficient passing to set up opportunities for shots at the goal. The Jaguars got on the board first thanks to a deep pass from defender Tilly Wilkes that set up a goal from forward Moa Ohman 12:54 minutes into the game. Five and a half minutes later, the Red Wolves goalkeeper made an error when the goal zone was surrounded by multiple aggressive Jaguar defenders when she fumbled the ball into the goal zone. This gave the Jaguars the second goal of the game.
The Jaguars got their third goal of the game shortly after thanks to an assist once again from Tilly Wilkes for senior forward Briana Morris to score her second goal of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The Red Wolves were finally able to get on the board 2:30 minutes before halftime that Justice Stanford wanted to have back after defending a previous shot shortly before. South Alabama accounted for eight shots while Arkansas State only had four shots.
After coming out of halftime with a 3-1 score, the Jaguars wanted to be more efficient and keep their foot on the gas pedal to avoid an upset. Three minutes and 13 seconds coming out of halftime, midfielder Brenna McPartlan scored her second goal of the conference tournament. Two minutes later, the Jaguars again got on the scoreboard from Moa Ohman’s second goal of the game with an assist from freshman midfielder Gracie Wilson.
From then on, the Jaguars held the Red Wolves to only one point by closing out attacking lanes and being aggressive with the ball handler. Offensively, the Jaguars took advantage of the simple mistakes of the Red Wolves even if they didn’t result in goals scored. The Jaguars took 12 shots in the second half and the Red Wolves only had four shots in. South Alabama had a total of 20 shots and held the Red Wolves to only eight total shots. Among the 20 shots, 11 of those shots were towards the goal.
Graduate student midfielder Tabea Griss, senior goalkeeper Justice Stanford, sophomore midfielder Brenna McPartlan, and senior forward Briana Morris were named apart of the 2019 Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament Team. Morris was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player due to her dominating offensive performance in the three games with two goals and 13 shots.
This was South’s sixth conference championship tournament title in seven years and their first since 2017. The Jaguars have returned their status as a Sun Belt powerhouse and continued themselves as a dominant dynasty in the Sun Belt. The Jaguars have earned an automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament. The Jaguars (16-3-2) will face the #1 seeded Florida State Seminoles (15-5-0), who are ranked fifth overall in the nation in Tallahassee, Florida this Saturday, November 16th.