Sleeves up: Sasha Pickard is a force to be reckoned with on Alabama’s fearsome back line

Will Miller, Staff Reporter

The Alabama soccer defense has been fierce and unrelenting in 2022, with senior Sasha Pickard cementing herself as one of the more underrated players in the country. She has played with her sleeves up in every match.  

“I always used to do it when I was younger,” Pickard said. “It’s also an intimidation tactic. I feel like I look pretty tough with it. I mean, you’re seeing the girl with the full arm out running towards you, I feel like they might be a little scared, so it just makes me feel cool.” 

“[Pickard] is so incredibly important to our back line,” head coach Wes Hart said September 20. “Her mentality, her work ethic [and] her competitive spirit [are] second to none. She is an animal.” 

“She holds down the fort in the back,” midfielder Felicia Knox said after the Crimson Tide’s win over Ole Miss on Oct. 6. “It allows us to have a little bit more freedom up top to do our thing.” 

Pickard’s intense playing style allows her to win balls in the air, make key blocks, and tackle with the best of them. It also helped her become honored on Oct. 30 as a second team All-SEC selection and on Nov. 6 as an SEC All-Tournament team member.

In one example of her athleticism, during the first half of Alabama’s SEC Tournament semifinal win against Vanderbilt, goalkeeper McKinley Crone got caught off her line — and Vanderbilt looked primed to capitalize. Pickard made the play behind Crone, very likely saving a goal, and kept the Commodores from taking a 2-1 lead. 

Alabama wound up winning the match 2-1. The victory sent the program to its first conference tournament final in nearly three decades. The Crimson Tide subsequently earned a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning that the tournament would come to Tuscaloosa for the first time ever. 

“It is so exciting to have the opportunity to [host] in front of so many fans rooting for us,” Pickard said. “It’s something we’ve never done. It’s such an advantage playing at our field, not only knowing the turf, but how loud our fans get. It’s a very exciting thing to be able to host those games.” 

Another match Pickard shined in was the Sept. 1 upset win over then-No. 6 Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her uncompromising defense helped her team get revenge against the Cougars, who eliminated them from the 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

“As soon as we got our schedule and I saw that BYU was on it, that we were going to Utah, I have never been more excited in my life,” Pickard said. “I don’t think anybody had won at their home in a long time. For me, it was really just about showing them and showing everyone else that we were a team that could compete for a national championship, that we were up there with all of the elite teams.” 

“That was our first game to do it. It was just such a good feeling to be able to play against some of the best forwards in the nation. Those forwards were crazy, crazy good,” she said.  “Those girls are fast, they have so many weapons on their team, but I was extremely happy with how the defense played. I mean, just, beyond ecstatic. Every single tackle was filled with so much adrenaline.” 

“The feeling of them blowing that final whistle and us having won the game was like no other,” she said.  

Pickard said there is no greater feeling than the satisfaction of proving people wrong — which road wins afford one the opportunity to do — and cited heated rival Auburn as an example. 

“It’s so satisfying to walk into Auburn’s stadium and prove every one of those fans wrong, that Alabama is the best school,” she said. 

Her physicality has given opposing attackers fits throughout the fall. Tackles can bring whistles, but Pickard said she’s within the rules — most of the time. 

“Most of the time, I definitely think I’m in the right,” she said. “Most of the time, I do think that I get ball, so when they do call [a foul], I get a little bit mad.” 

She reminisced on training alongside her sister, which she said helped her get more physical. 

“I think she definitely helped grow my physicality, purely based on the fact that we’re sisters. So, sisters can go a little harder at each other than other training buddies or friends. I wasn’t afraid to shove her over, and she also wasn’t afraid to absolutely foul me,” she said.  

The entire Alabama back line has been one of the best in the nation. The team’s chemistry has been a massive part of that. The bond they have with one another directly translates to the success the unit has seen while playing. 

“All of us on the back line are close,” Pickard said. “If you asked the team, [Reyna Reyes and I] have been attached at the hip. We’re confused for each other a few too many times. I love playing next to her.” 

Jersey No. 6 and 7 on the pitch are Pickard and fellow defender Gessica Skorka. 

“We are pretty much always together. [Skorka] and I are similar in a lot of ways, so it really helps build determination,” Pickard said.  

Pickard also praised Brooke Steere, who was one of two Alabama selections to make the SEC All-Freshman team, for her willingness to learn her new defensive position as a converted forward. 

“She’s such an amazing person on and off the field. It just shows her character and her determination to be able to fulfill that position, and she’s doing so well at it,” Pickard said.  

She said she’s sad to see Crone depart, and that the two have become close since the keeper’s 2020 arrival to the team. 

“We’ve been friends for so long. I’m so sad for her to leave next year,” Pickard said.  

“This back line is special. We work for each other, every single one of us,” she said. “We’re communicating the entire game. It’s never in a negative way. It’s always in a place of love. You can see, even from photos, you can see the connection.” 

She reiterated multiple times that everyone on the team has played their part, and that that’s important to maintain, especially with the NCAA Tournament next on the docket. 

“I don’t think the team could do it without each and every one of us,” Pickard said.  

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]