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Don't Call Alabama Soccer An Overnight Success

The Crimson Tide's already historic season started well before 2022, but is on pace to be the best in program history.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Alabama soccer coach Wes Hart spoke to the media during Tuesday's press conference, he mentioned how people on campus, media members and family alike talk about the team being an "overnight success." 

He disagreed with those claims, saying in reality it's quite the opposite.

"It's been a long time coming," Hart said. "The amount of work we've put into this program, getting the culture right, our training habits that are now being seen on the field ... we're kinda reaping the benefits of that now."

Hart has coached the Crimson Tide soccer team since 2015. The start wasn't great (the team went 5-12-2 in his first season), but he win total almost doubled the next season. 

During Hart's tenure, the Tide have three double-digit winning seasons, with his best to date being a 12-win season in 2017. 

In 2022, Hart has led the team to an 8-1-1 record which includes three wins against ranked opponents: a shutout at home against then No. 18 Clemson, a 3-2 win against No. 6 BYU in Utah (which they lost to in last year's NCAA tournament), and 2-0 victory against No. 5 South Carolina.

"Good players making big plays at the end of the day," Hart said about the ranked wins. "We knew heading into this season that we had a pretty talented group, and and it's just been a great run for us so far and I think we keep getting better each week."

One of the factors Hart mentioned as a reason for the success is the leadership and experience on the team: mostly everyone is back from last year, and the roster includes 13 players who are either seniors or in their graduate year. 

Among them, the two who stand the most are captains Kat Rogers and Riley Mattingly Parker.

"They've both been with us through the thick and the thin," Hart said about his captains. "They've been here since the beginning."

"The beginning" for Parker and Rogers was 2018, when they were part of a .500 team during their first year, a 10-win team their second year, then went 7-8-2 their third year. It wasn't always pretty, but as Hart said, the two helped "lay the foundation" for the season they're having now.

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"We actually didn't start out being friends," Parker said about her relationship with Rogers during their early days at Alabama. "Our friendship blossomed into something that is definitely gonna be lifelong, and I wouldn't have wanted to go through my college career here at Alabama with anybody else by my side."

Rogers and Parker have both found individual success on the field this season, as Rogers is top 10 in the SEC with six assists, and Parker is third with 15 points and second with seven goals scored. 

Outside of the captains, the Crimson Tide has a plethora of key contributors all over the field. Sasha Pickard and McKinley Crone anchor a defense that's already notched six shutouts this season; Felicia Knox is tied for the SEC lead with eight assists; and Gianna Paul is top 10 in the SEC with 23 shots as a true freshman.

"I've made the comment before that she is the Kevin Durant of the SEC," Parker said when asked about Knox's passing skills. "The way she sees the field is so professional, she sees things that other players don't see. We're lucky to have here on out team because I wouldn't want to be playing against her."

Coach Hart also talked about Paul using her athletic ability to add another dimension to the Alabama offense, taking advantage of defenses that commit too high.

"[Paul has] gotta be one of the fastest soccer players in the country," Hart said. "We're trying to hide her from the track team so they don't try to steal her from us, but she's an incredibly gifted and a fantastic soccer player as well."

Alabama, ranked No. 6 in this week's national poll, kicks off full-time conference play Thursday as the Crimson Tide travels to Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the Volunteers. The last time the two met in an official match, UA won 3-1 at home. 

But Hart expects a great game against the current leader of the SEC East and reigning conference champions. 

"They've got some great attacking players, some forwards that can score goals and they cause problems," Hart said. "They got a very good midfield that's able to create chances. I don't think it's gonna a high-scoring affair, but I think both teams are gonna create a lot of chances, and it's ultimately gonna come down to who makes the most of those opportunities."

Lately, that's been the Crimson Tide, which has been building momentum for more than a few weeks, but over years.  

See Also: 

No. 11 Alabama Soccer Knocks Off No. 5 South Carolina

Riley Mattingly Parker Returned to Alabama Soccer for Big Games Like One With No. 5 S.C.