Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

The transformation of Alabama soccer

CW / Riley Thompson

The Alabama soccer team played North Carolina to a 1-1 draw this past Sunday in a relatively unremarkable game. Sure, there were some big moments, notably sophomore forward Gianna Paul’s late game-tying goal, which had the whole stadium on its feet.  

But in the grand scheme of things, it was a regular-season non-conference matchup that may end up forgotten. 

Only those who have been around the team the longest understand what this game truly meant.  

The histories of these two programs could not be any more different. The Tar Heels are the class of college soccer, 21-time national champions who have produced icons such as Mia Hamm, Tobin Heath and Crystal Dunn.  

Meanwhile the Crimson Tide is perennially mediocre. Three years ago, Alabama held an all-time record below .500. And forget about championships; this program had never even won an NCAA tournament game. 

Yet here we are. The year is 2023, and these two teams are on equal footing. The fact that Alabama can even hang in this game is a miracle. And there is one man at the center of it all: head coach Wes Hart. 

“Before you worry about tactics, or formation, or strategy, or anything like that, you have to be ready to compete,” Hart said following the North Carolina game.  

For Hart, individual plays and moments are insignificant, as he reiterates that the difference between a win and a loss is competitive drive.  

 “It all comes down to our willingness to compete and battle and fight,” Hart said. “Once we’ve got that, then we can worry a little more about tactics and style and all that other stuff.”  

He preaches mindset over everything, something that was hammered into his mind as an assistant coach for the Florida State men’s team, where he won a national championship in 2014. Taking over a program that had a grand total of two NCAA tournament appearances, he won just five games in his first season in Tuscaloosa. 

“The biggest thing is shift in our mentality and our mindset,” Hart said of the program’s turnaround. “We’ve got a program full of players right now that have belief, that have pride in the program, in themselves, in the team, a group that wants to play for each other. They’re less concerned about individual accolades, knowing those will come with our team’s success, but we have a team right now that is hungry to compete, and I think that goes a heck of a long way.” 

One of those players is senior defender Sasha Pickard. Recruited out of Saratoga, California, she was a part of the transcendental 2019 recruiting class that also included fellow senior Macy Clem and current Portland Thorns defender and Mexican national team member Reyna Reyes.  

“I remember from when I was getting recruited that Wes Hart brought us in and he was like, ‘Look, we’re looking for players that are going to win us an SEC championship,’” Pickard said. “When I first came in and met the [2019] team and we started playing, I think even though the results weren’t what they are currently, we were building this great culture that we have right now.” 

How far can this team go? Only time will tell. But people across the country are taking notice. 

“They’re [Alabama] going to be an excellent team for years to come,” North Carolina head coach and National Soccer Hall of Famer Anson Dorrance said following the Tar Heels’ game against Alabama. 

Everything is going to plan in T-town. Alabama soccer is having its moment. Everybody — the players, the coaches, the 1,500 fans who showed up to last Sunday’s game — is loving it.  

In the words of Pickard, “We always knew the championship potential was there. It just took the rest of the nation a little while to see it.” 

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