Soccer to play in the Spring of 2021

Chase Glover

 A long time coming has finally arrived for the North Alabama Women’s Soccer team as they have received the notion that they will resume play beginning in the start of March. Their new all-conference schedule has been released through the University’s social media accounts.

The soccer team will play four ASUN conference opponents; seven of the eight games will be in March, while the last one will be in the first few days of April. There is a split in the conference this year between the north and south of the ASUN. UNA will play Lipscomb, Liberty, Bellarmine and Kennesaw State in their eight-game schedule but will face each team twice.

As many know, soccer is usually played in the Fall season, however the pandemic quickly shut down all sports here in Florence. The only sport playing currently is the Football program; sports like Volleyball, Soccer, Tennis and Basketball all are awaiting for their season come spring time.

Head coach Chris Walker, and senior captain Tay Cavett have both expressed their excitement for the team along with themselves for the upcoming conference schedule release.

“It is split into a North and South division,” Walker said. “It is not ideal, we don’t want to play the same teams twice, especially since five of us are in the North. It’s better than nothing with all of the chaos going on right now, we just want to get out and play. We play those eight games and we will take anything we can get right now.”

Walker, along with his team was exuberant about the news that they will play this upcoming spring. Cavett thinks on the same wavelength as Walker because her thoughts connect right alongside those of her head coach.

“Honestly, I am just glad that we have a schedule,” Cavett said. “It’s my senior season, it is my fifth year, it is my last one. When COVID came around last March, I really didn’t know if I would have my senior season.”

Cavett is one of four Lion soccer players that are a senior or hold a graduate assistant position on the team. A younger team, that has held great recruiting classes as of late, will look to Midfielder Cavett to be a voice on this team and to light the way.

As the Lions prepare for their conference schedule, that does not mean they are only going to be playing those eight conference games. The University of North Alabama Athletics and the Soccer team are looking to also create a non-conference schedule to add in the mix.

“The non-conference schedule will hopefully be released in the coming weeks,” Walker said. “It will take up the month of February primarily; we will play a game each weekend to help prepare ourselves for the ASUN schedule. It will be a competitive schedule and four exciting games.”

Soccer is unlike many other sports at the college level; Football has FBS or FCS level, Basketball has Majors, Mid-Majors and various others, and so on. However, with Soccer there is no FBS or FCS or Majors or Mid-Majors, there is one league which means they can play anyone and everyone within the nation.

“We are looking to play different teams,” Walker said. “Teams from the Conference-USA or the Sun Belt or maybe even the SoCon. We are looking at some in-state games, it is tough with flying or playing because some teams are playing in the fall and others are playing in the spring. We are trying to make sure teams are available to play and what we can make work for ourselves as well.”

Some teams that are surrounding or are in the state of Alabama from these conferences are UAB, Southern Mississippi and Middle Tennessee from Conference USA; Mercer, Chattanooga, ETSU and Samford from the SoCon; South Alabama, Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Troy from the Sun Belt. 

Walker alluded that four teams from these conferences will make up the upcoming non-conference schedule. If the program focuses on in-state games, UAB, Troy, South Alabama and Samford would make up the schedule. However, if they would like to up the competition but stay close to home, teams like Middle Tennessee, Georgia State, Troy and Mercer could comprise this list.

The new schedule and time frame of play has created a whirlwind of excitement along with some confusion in the locker room. However, both Walker and Cavett have mentioned that it would not be as big of a struggle with playing in the spring. The best situation they could have gotten into allows them to understand the new freshman class, per the two.

“It will be different, for one the weather will be colder,” Cavett said. “We will have time to practice with the new players [freshman], we got a good bit of new players. That will help in building the team chemistry so we have more time together before we get into the games.”

Lion’s soccer is seeing almost everything as a positive during the pandemic. They received news in Aug., that their season would be cancelled for the fall. None of the players saw this as a let down, instead they found the silver lining in that they have more time to prepare and practice for the next go around. 

The program has not played since the fall of 2019, when they fell short of their aspirations that were bestowed to them after their immaculate run to the 2018 ASUN playoffs in their first year of transition to Division-I. 

The Lions played their last game on Oct., 27 against Lipscomb in a ASUN matchup to end their 2019 season. They left the 2019 season and the Lipscomb game with a goose egg on the board as they lost 6-0. This upcoming season, as of right now, will start against Lipscomb on March 4. UNA will be coming off a 494 day hiatus, which equates to one year, four months and five days between their previous game and their next one.

This hiatus could prove to be deadly for the women in the program, but team leader Cavett sees it as a way to be more prepared. Her coach believes the exact same thing could prove to be the best helper for their entire team.

“It has been nice to have this extended time,” Walker said. “It is nice to get to know the big freshman class, from a selfish standpoint, it has been nice to have a couple of months to get to know them. Normally, we would get two weeks of preseason and then you get kind of thrown into it. When you’re halfway through, you say ‘Now I know what my best team is’ and sometimes it is too late at that point. Now we get to wait and play in the spring, then we will look to turn around and play again in the fall. A lot of these girls also play year around anyway, so I don’t think it will be that big of a deal to play in the spring.”

The 494 days on the board have led to practices and then more practices for the team. However, with these many days in between games, it creates a space for Walker to give more days of rest. It also allows him to throw another side of action in for the girls to participate and keep them more engaged in practices.

This extended offseason can also change the dynamic of how they perform in games as well. Last year, the Lions finished 6-11 at the end of the season and out of those six wins, only two came against ASUN opponents. The eight games against conference opponents saw six losses; four of those ended in a shutout. The Lions gave up 11 goals in those four losses, averaging out to almost three per contest. 

“We have incorporated shooting practices,” Cavett said. “There have been a few times we were allowed to play 11-on-11 in practice and we have scored [goals] more. No one stated it out loud but it has been shown in our practices, whatever we have been doing has generated more in practice.”

This irregular offseason has allowed the practices to have a different energy to it, even from the coaches. Cavett mentioned that the head coach is upbeat and lively during practice, while also cracking a few jokes here and there. 

“It has been laid back but not super laid back,” Cavett said. “He definitely brings that fun energy, but also has the expectations that you are going to come in and you are going to do your job. He has the balance of ‘We are going to have fun, but we are also going to work hard and get better’.”

Mentioned previously, the ASUN cancelled fall sports across the board including soccer in the fall. However, when the news of COVID broke in the spring left many UNA programs reeling from the losses of their season. Heartbroken, hurt, confusion and more spiraled into the minds of the athletes, yet the soccer team did not let that falter their vision.

“It sucked having it [season] pushed back,” Cavett said. “Normally we are alwasy getting ready for games this time of year, and I miss that a lot. You can’t blame the ASUN though, they didn’t know what was going on. We all saw it coming, so it wasn’t a big shock; it was sad. I think it switched ‘Okay, we are going to adjust to this now, we have to start practing now. This is something we have to focus on now, we are going to look forward to playing and do all that we can to prepare for the season’.”

Through the ups and downs in the transition to Division-I level, the soccer team has stayed consistent in their mindset on how they approach the game. 

In season one of 2018, they recorded an 11-9-1 record that led them to the ASUN championship. In 2019, they tumbled backwards as they recorded a 6-11 record and were one goal short of the ASUN playoffs. However, 2020 is looking at a different outlook for the end of the season. Coaches and players alike are not mentioning the playoff aspirations but the mindset is driving every practice and game towards the fixation.

“The main priority right now is getting back to playing,” Walker said. “We missed the playoffs [last year] by one goal in a game, we will evaluate season games when we get there. We are just looking forward to playing in the spring.”

The conference schedule for women’s soccer is the only one released so far. As of right now, they will be playing at the beginning of March against ASUN opponent Lipscomb. Walker mentioned the non-conference schedule will be released upcoming. 

The Lions will face off against the team that beat them for the ASUN championship in 2018 and the team that concluded their 2019 season with a shutout. Look for these 494 days to have these women prepared and ready to win against Lipscomb on March 4.