Editor’s note and revision, Oct. 26: A-State’s goal in the 61st minute was officially scored as an own goal. Sarah Sodoma has four assists on the season and 15 assists all-time, still good for second in A-State history.
In a matchup of the best of the West and the two best defenses in the Sun Belt Conference, the Arkansas State soccer team (8-1-1, 7-0-1 SBC) closed out its regular season undefeated in the SBC with an impressive 3-0 win over Louisiana Sunday afternoon at the A-State Soccer Complex.
Coming into the matchup, A-State had already secured the No.1 seed in the Western division for the SBC tournament and Louisiana had already locked down the No. 2 seed, but both coaches fielded a full power starting 11.
“I think it’s more about maintaining our rhythm,” A-State head coach Brian Dooley said. “We really hadn’t had it the last couple of games. It was about training hard this week, rewarding kids that trained hard. It’s about getting the win. We wanted to finish without a loss in conference. That’s something that’s never been done and it’s going to be difficult to do again. Our kids wanted to fight for something. Even though the game didn’t matter as far as seeding, it mattered for having a legacy and creating something as a team that no one’s done before.”
Before the match, the last team to score on Louisiana was actually A-State seven matches prior when Sarah Sodoma netted against the Ragin’ Cajuns Sept. 24. Sodoma opened the scoring Sunday and broke Louisiana’s impressive goalless minutes tally when the senior scored a penalty kick in the 12th minute.
In the build up to the penalty kick, Hailey Furio played a long over the top ball to Olivia Smith. Although initially the ball looked to be played far ahead of Smith, the senior ran onto the pass in the box and was pushed from behind. A-State’s all-time leading goal scorer tucked away the penalty calmly as Lauryn Starwood guessed the wrong way in Louisiana’s goal.
The goal marked Sodoma’s 28th goal all-time for A-State and her first since scoring a brace at Louisiana Monroe Oct. 4.
“(It was) really important (for my confidence),” Sodoma said. “I think I’ve kind of had a slow couple of games just not scoring wise. I’ve still been getting on the end of stuff but not really getting my shots on goal. So I think that’s really good and hopefully it will continue into the tournament.”
Although Louisiana controlled most of the possession in the first half, the visitors did not create many concrete chances. However, Louisiana’s leading goal scorer Lizzie Mayfield did send a penalty kick wide left of McClure’s goal in the 13th minute right after Sodoma’s attempt.
The Red Wolves doubled their advantage in the 61st minute when Sodoma turned from goal scorer to goal provider.
Abigail Miller played a long through ball from midfield to Sodoma down the left wing. The senior used her blistering pace to get toward the end line and whip a ball across the middle. Furio was there to tap the ball in for A-State and make the match 2-0.
“They were playing a really high line, so their defense kind of got caught up and I was just ready to go through when (Miller) played it,” Sodoma said. “I got on the end of it and went to the endline and just crossed it because I saw Hailey going and was hoping she’d get there.
Sodoma now has six goals and five assists on the season. Sodoma holds 16 career assists at A-State, good for second all-time.
“Honestly I like assists better than goals I think,” Sodoma said. “It makes me feel better. I like when my teammates score, they get really excited. I think that brings a lot of fun to the game. It’s exciting for me when they score, I love it.”
The Red Wolves sealed the game 3-0 in the 86th minute when Haley Husted took a high, looping in-swinging corner into the middle of the box. Maggie Ertl rose to head the ball with an impressive finish past Starwood, off the crossbar and down over the goalline.
For an A-State offense that had stalled a little bit over its past few matches, the Red Wolves’ attack found its feet against Louisiana.
“I think it was just being aggressive,” Dooley said. “We worked all week on trying to find combinations with the front runners and running at the backline and trying to find the gaps. Being aggressive in our decision making. That’s the way you have to attack, you have to go after it and be aggressive in your decisions even if it’s risky. The reward at the final third is so much greater.”
The Red Wolves posted their eighth shoutout of the season and with freshman center back Rachel Kutella not available Sunday, experienced senior Julianna Coates played a full 90 minutes for the first time all season after dealing with injury.
“She was spectacular,” Dooley said. “Other than a tough hop on a handball in the box, she was amazing, she really was.”
Freshman outside back Lauren Shah has played every single minute for A-State this season and Shah saved a goal off the line in the second half.
“I was thinking all I have to do is put my body in front of it,” Shah said. “If Megan (McClure) does it 24/7 throughout the game, I can do it too. Let me just get in there and get it out.”
Dooley said from his angle during the match it looked like the shot Shah potentially saved off the line was going wide, but either way he said what was important to him was that Shah was in the right position to make the play.
Shah is part of a stellar group of freshmen in the backline, including Kutella and Hailey Cloud, who have been outstanding for the Red Wolves defensively all season.
“Being a freshman it’s just really nice to have a group that encourages you to push,” Shah said. “The communication Rachel brings is really good communication in the backline. That’s what our center backs need is constant communication. They do a great job of doing that. I love having them in the back. Jules (Coates) does a really good job with that too. With her being injured and her coming back, it’s just really cool to have her back there.”
Shah is also a great offensive wing back and she said when she came to A-State she knew that’s another aspect of her game the coaching staff expected to see.
“I knew they wanted me to make runs outside the back and that’s what I was capable of,” Shah said. “Just being able to perform and do that on this field and at a higher level is just really cool to see how it’s developed.”
A-State kicks off its SBC tournament campaign Nov. 4 in Foley, Alabama. The Red Wolves have a bye and will not have to play until the quarterfinals of the tournament. A-State is set to take on the winner of the Nov. 2 matchup between Appalachian State and ULM.