It had been a historic season for the University of South Alabama Jaguars when the final whistle sounded in a 5-0 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee.
However, the loss came in the opening round of NCAA Division I postseason. For the Jaguars, that was uncharted water.
Six seniors led USA to the team’s first-ever Sun Belt Conference championship and their first berth in the NCAAs.
Those six had appeared in almost every Jaguar match since their freshman season in 2010, Head coach Graham Winkworth was in his first season as the Jaguars coach. Together, they went on to a 12-5-2 regular season record, earning the #2 seed into the SBC tournament.
In the conference final they scored 20-minutes into the championship game against regular season champion Western Kentucky and made it stand up for the championship.
“This is something that we seniors have talked about for the four years that we’ve been at South Alabama,” said goalkeeper Melissa Drish (Conyers, Ga.)
“This year is the first that we, as a team, really thought it could happen. Coach Graham came here and told us we would win championships, and that’s the first time our eyes really opened.
That senior group also included midfielders Clarissa Hernandez (Pensacola, Fla.) and Morgan Motes (Birmingham, Ala.) and defenders Jess Oram and Tatum Perry and center back Shelby Owen, both from Trussville, Ala.
Owen described the first meeting of the team with Winkworth, who joined the program a year ago after former head coach Mike Varga was released after 14 seasons.
“The first time we started talking about going forward with Coach Winkworth, he told us that we were going to play for championships,” Owen recalled. “He said that he was told he could rebuild, but he believed we had all the necessary tools to win titles.
“After that, our whole mindset was changed.”
Next year the seniors will be gone, but there is talent coming back.
Freshman Lauren Allison (England) led the Jaguars in scoring with 14 goals and 11 assists. Sophomore Jordan Duncan (Bay St. Louis, Miss.) and sophomore Alyssa Mayer (Birmingham, Ala.) were among the top four scorers, with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Duncan scored four goals.
Overall USA finished the season 14-6-3 and its 23 games was the most any team had played in a single season. Early in the season, the Jags were leading the nation in scoring offense, points and assists.
Defensively, USA allowed opponents only 1.04 goal a game. All but one of South Alabama’s losses, the loss to ACC champion FSU, were by a single goal.
Allison, Hernandez, Oram and Owen were named all-conference and Allison was voted Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year by the league’s head coaches.
Already Winkworth is working towards next year. He knows his team will be younger, and not as experienced as his senior-led 2013 team.
“I am working very hard to put together a talented young squad for next year that will not only have success on the field, but will entertain.
“That is very important to me that when were are fortunate to win, that we win playing attractive soccer with lots of all movement.”
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