UNA soccer team’s aggressiveness keeps momentum alive

Senior midfielder Danielle Scanlon chases after the ball against Shorter University Sept. 24. The Lions have started season hot with a 8-2-1 record.

With eight wins in their first 11 games, the Lions will try to close out the season strong before the Gulf South Conference tournament Nov. 4.

UNA (8-2-1) is currently No. 4 in the GSC standings and will get the opportunity to make headway to the top of the standings coming up.

The Lions still have the top two teams in the conference remaining on its schedule — Christian Brothers University and the University of West Alabama.

The tough upcoming schedule will tell a lot about the team, said head coach Chris Walker.

“We have some of the better teams in the conference coming up and if we can come away with decent results in them we’ll be in really good shape,” he said.

After last season’s slow start en route to an 8-8-2 record, the Lions are changing the pace this year.

“I think we’re more of a team this year. Everyone is working hard and we’re a lot deeper,” Walker said. “And people have bought into the roles they have. Practice is more than 11 players. It’s been all 24 of them.”

The Lions are led by D-II second leading scorer, forward Chloe Richards. This season she has made 14 of the team’s 22 goals and has been named GSC Player of the Week three times, which also leads the conference.

“I’ve done beyond what I thought I would do this season and hopefully I can keep scoring goals to help us keep winning,” Richards said. “I get good service (passes) from my team which obviously makes a huge difference.”

Of the 22 goals the Lions have scored, 18 have been off assists, the most in the conference.

The Lions also lead the GSC in shots per game (8.89), a testament to the team’s aggressive game plan.

“Chris (Walker) always emphasizes in practice that when you have a shot, take it, because if you don’t shoot you’re not going to score,” Richards said.

The defense has been a big part of the Lions success, giving up a GSC low seven goals.

“Yeah, it’s funny because it is the one position on the field that we have gone through a few changes,” Walker said. We’ve picked up a few injuries but the eight or nine different people that have been in have been fantastic.”

Senior defender Ellis Hillman, who has earned All-GSC honors every year at UNA, is a big reason the Lions have been able to shutdown opposing offenses.

Hillman said the competitive drive from the defense has been key to allowing so few goals.

“The defense has been a lot more cohesive this year than last,” Hillman said. “We have three brilliant (goal) keepers which we have never had. We switched up the defense as I moved to center back this year to give more speed. We got (Alyssa) Bova, Chelsea (Rial) and Morgan (Brown) to switch in and they give us a lot of options moving forward.”

One of the reasons for the Lions’ success this season has been the seniors stepping up, Walker said.

“Last year was difficult with it being my first year and just getting used to everybody,” he said. “This year’s seniors bought in during the spring and really took hold of the team. They’re all competitive and work hard.”

Hillman said it has been important for the seniors to lead by example so the rest of the team can follow.

Walker said the newcomers have also been able to come in and play well for the Lions. UNA has seven true freshmen and three transfers on the team.

“The experience of the three transfers has been great,” he said. “Madeline (Fancher) stepped up big in the last couple of games and played goal keeper. Erica (Cervi) and Beatriz (Fernandes) have been great, too.

Beatriz sets up so many goals and her movement is fantastic, she is one of the best players in the air even though she’s 5’1”.”

The Lions defeated University of West Florida, the GSC defending champion, 1-0 Oct. 12.

The recent win against the Argonauts and the Lions fast start gives the players confidence as the team looks forward to the rest of the season, Richards said.

“Without a doubt I feel we can compete for the conference championship very easily,” she said. “Nothing is given in this conference and I think we have what it takes.”

The top six teams in the conference qualify for the GSC tournament.

The Lions will play at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Oct. 17 at 5 p.m.

UNA returns home to host Union University Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.