Champions dethroned

Chloe Richards and UWF’s Alex Pickrell square off during the Sept. 16 regular season game at the UNA soccer field. UWF defeated the Lions for the GSC title Nov. 4 in Pensacola, Fla.

The UNA Lions will make their fourth straight appearance in the NCAA national tournament after being selected Nov. 5 as the fourth seed in the South regional.

The South regional play will be hosted at the University of West Florida campus Nov. 9-11 in Pensacola, Fla.

The Lions will face fifth-seeded Valdosta State Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. with the winner to face the No. 1 seed West Florida. Tampa, Barry and Rollins College represent the other side of the region play.

UNA (12-5-1) won its GSC tournament semifinal match Nov. 2 against West Georgia 5-0 before falling to West Florida in the tournament final. 

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Seniors Jo Chubb and Chloe Roberts earned tournament co-MVP while Nikki Brown and Chloe Richards joined them on the all-tournament team.

The 4-0 loss to West Florida in the GSC tournament finals was UNA’s second loss this season to the Argonauts. The Lions lost at home to West Florida 4-1 Sept. 16.

The Lions have the chance to avenge those losses if they can defeat Valdosta State in the first round of the NCAA regional tournament. UNA defeated the Blazers Sept. 21 in a closely fought 4-3 result. That win for the Lions helped them to edge out Valdosta State for the second seed in the GSC tournament and a first-round bye.

“We upset Valdosta in a closely fought game at their home,” said head coach Graham Winkworth. “They are definitely going to be motivated and they will be more rested.”

Winkworth said UNA and Valdosta State are different teams but that he feels the Lions match up well.

“They are a big, physical team that plays a direct style of play with a lot of long balls while they substitute a lot of players in and out,” Winkworth said. “They are dangerous on set pieces and corner kicks as well. We need to defend firmly but patiently.”

The Lions gathered in a classroom in Flowers Hall Nov. 5 to watch a live selection show broadcast through the NCAA website to see if they would be invited to their fourth straight NCAA regional tournament and where they would be seeded.  

After UNA’s match-up was announced, Roberts said she was ready for the next match.

“I’m not ending my career at UNA by losing to Valdosta State,” she said. “I’m not ending my career like that.”

Winkworth said the approach to the south regional NCAA tournament is not much different from the approach they take for the GSC tournament.

“We’ll have pretty much the same schedule this week as we did last week and try and limit some of our practice so we can stay fresh,” Winkworth said. “The itinerary will be nearly identical; we’ll stay at the same hotel, eat at the same restaurants. It has worked for us in the past.”