Breaking New Ground: Top-seeded Alabama searches for more history at NCAA Tournament

Will Miller, Staff Reporter

The Alabama soccer team will have a chance on Friday, and potentially Sunday, to add to the history it has accomplished all year by making it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Standing in the Crimson Tide’s way is visiting No. 8 seed University of Portland, and then, if Alabama is victorious, it will be the winner of Brown University and the University of California, Irvine. 

The Pilots won their way to Tuscaloosa by warding off the Sun Devils of Arizona State University. The Bears and Anteaters were the merchants of chaos in the bracket, beating fifth-seeded Rutgers and fourth-seeded Southern California. All these teams wanted their shot at Alabama, but first is Portland, and Brown or UC Irvine must beat the other for a chance to create another upset. 

The Crimson Tide would make yet more program history by beating Portland. Alabama has only ever made it as far as the second round — which it did a season ago. The program has never played in the same NCAA Tournament three times.  

Alabama (20-2-1) is continuing to reap the benefits of its No. 1 seed by remaining on home turf. On Nov. 11, the Crimson Tide dismantled Jackson State University 9-0 courtesy of eight different scorers. It was a huge statement coming off the team’s first loss since August, and has put Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. 

“First and foremost, our priority is going to be on Portland and doing everything we can to win that game,” head coach Wes Hart said. “We’ve got to continue doing what we’ve done all year long.” 

That means scoring, at least in part, and Alabama proved it could at will against the overmatched defense of Jackson State. Hart praised his team’s energy levels in that contest.  

The Crimson Tide’s aggressive style has forced teams near and far off of their respective game plans. Hart sees that press-and-hunt style as a big part of his team’s identity, and it remains important in the late stages of the campaign. 

“Everyone has to be bought into that pressing style,” forward Ashlynn Serepca said. “That’s what makes us so special and so unique, is our ability to press and hunt for all 90 minutes. Every person on this team has really embraced their role.”  

A team that plays that way has to be well-conditioned, and Alabama is.  

“We can see it each and every day, when 70 minutes rolls around, and we’re still pressing, we’re still hunting, we’re still fighting,” Serepca said. “Each and every person can press and hunt for 90 minutes, and still keep going.” 

“They did a fantastic job over the summer of getting fit,” Hart said. “If we’re going to be a pressing team, a hunting team, a team that’s high-tempo, you can’t do that if you’re unfit. It helped tremendously that the team came in fit and bought into what we’re doing. That’s been huge.” 

Not to be neglected is the defense, which has held teams off the board game after game, including twice in four matches since the end of the regular season. Five regular-season SEC foes out of 10 didn’t score on Alabama. The defense has also been a crucial part of Alabama’s undefeated home record, and the Crimson Tide trots out the SEC Defender of the Year. Next to her are two all-conference selections, and behind them is one of the best goalkeepers in the country. 

One of the NCAA Tournament’s top seeds will resume action on Friday, Nov. 18, with Alabama set to square off with the Pilots at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN+. 

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