Lions earn hosting rights for conference tournament

Junior defender Alyssa Bova rears back for a free kick against Cumberland Sept. 27. Bova and the Lions finished 8-0 at home this season and will host the Gulf South Conference tournament Nov. 6-8.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

The UNA soccer team won the Gulf South Conference regular season championship Nov. 1, clinching it with a 3-0 win over Delta State.

As a result, the Lions will host the semifinals and championship game of the GSC tournament Nov. 6-8 in Florence. The Lions finished the regular season with a 14-2-1 overall record, including a conference best 10-2 record.

“I think we have a great chance to win (the tournament),” said UNA head coach Chris Walker. “When it’s conference time and playoff time, you never know what could happen.”

The six-team tournament kicked off Nov. 3, as West Florida defeated Christian Brothers 4-1 to advance to the semifinals against Lee University. West Alabama, who beat West Georgia 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout, will face UNA in the semifinals Oct. 6.

The Lions secure the top seed, while Lee University owns the second. Both teams received first round byes, as both finished with the top conference record. Since the Lions defeated Lee head-to-head, they earned the rights to host.

“It’s a reward for our team (to host the tournament) because of how well they did in the regular season,” said UNA athletic director Mark Linder. “It reduces class time missed, which helps our student athletes.”

UNA finished undefeated at home in the regular season, winning all eight on its home turf.

“Being undefeated at home means a lot to our team,” Walker said. “When we are playing at home, we know we have a chance to beat anyone. Hopefully, hosting the conference (tournament) puts us in a good position for regionals.

UNA senior forward Chloe Richards, who led the conference in goals with 29 this season, said she believes the home unbeaten streak can continue in the tournament.

“Nobody plays on this turf like we do,” Richards said. “To be able to host on this turf with our fans here at UNA supporting us will be a huge advantage.”

Richards said hosting the tournament helps the team stay rested without the issue of traveling.

“I get to sleep in my own bed (during the tournament),” Richards said. “Having our own beds and our own locker room is a huge advantage.”

While winning the conference is UNA’s ultimate concern this week, Linder said he plans to put in a bid to host an NCAA regional tournament for the playoffs.

While winning the conference is UNA’s ultimate concern this week, Linder said he plans to put in a bid to host an NCAA regional tournament for the playoffs.

As it stands, the Lions are second in the South Region behind Barry University, meaning Florence could host three other playoff teams in the first round Nov. 13.

“We like where we are (in the region standings) right now,” Walker said. “Obviously, we would like to be number one (seed), but the two hosts also. We’d like to stay in that spot and host a regional tournament.”

Linder said most of UNA’s athletic programs have tremendous records at home each year. He said for soccer to remain undefeated on its own field is a testament to the team.

“I’d say we’re pretty good on our home turf,” Linder said. “They’re used to playing in these dimensions. I’d say home field advantage is just as big in soccer as it is in any other sport.”