Lady Hornets prep for SWAC opener in Lone Star road trip

BREHAM, Texas (  – Conference play will open this weekend as the Alabama State women’s soccer team embarks on a long road trip to Texas to play at Prairie View A&M on Friday at 7 p.m. in Breham’s Hohlt Park and at Texas Southern on Sunday at 1 p.m.

It will be the first meeting between Alabama State (1-7) and Prairie View A&M (0-7) since the teams last met in the 2015 SWAC Semifinals where the Lady Hornets blanked the Panthers 3-0 to advance to the championship match.

Ariela Lewis has been nearly unstoppable against the Panthers as she scored all three goals in the playoff match and also added two goals including the winner and an assist versus Prairie View on ASU’s Senior Day last season in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory.

PVAMU did eliminate ASU from the playoffs two seasons ago with a 2-0 win so it remains one of the top budding rivalries in the SWAC over the past couple of seasons.

“She [Ar. Lewis] really came to play in the conference tournament,” said ASU head coach Jodie Smith.

“We’ve had great battles with Prairie View over the years and I expect this weekend to be no different.  We’re on the road.   Everybody is hoping to get off to a fast start in conference play.  We’ve been in the upper part of the bracket in the last couple of years.  Generally, we know that at some point, we’re going to have to go through each other to advance.  [Prairie View A&M] Coach [Abe] Garcia has done a great job.  We know that when we play them that we are going to be in for a battle.”

Texas Southern (2-5) and ASU also have gone back and forth in see-saw affairs with the Lady Tigers knocking off ASU on their home field 6-1 last Oct. 23 before the Lady Hornets exacted revenge on them with a convincing 3-0 victory in the SWAC Quarterfinals.

Adding to the intrigue, the match up will feature coach Smith’s former protégé Kathryn Saunders.

Previously, Saunders had been an assistant under Smith at Alabama State.

Now, Saunders serves as the Tigers’ head coach.

“We lost Larissa White, one of our midfielders, early in the game [to injury] when we played them in the regular season,” Smith said.

“That’s a factor.  It changes how you approach the game because midfielders are like a quarterback to the team.  For you to be successful, you need to dominate the midfield.  Without her, we struggled to find our rhythm.  They took advantage, scored some quality goals and really deserved the night.  But, it gave us a chance to regroup and find another lineup that might work for us.  In the conference tournament [game against them], we played probably our best full 90 minutes.”

Players to watch

PVAMU freshman goalkeeper Brooke Merino leads the nation in saves per match (14.33) and has 47 saves on the season.

Merino is also ranked fourth in the SWAC in save percentage (.723).

Texas Southern junior forward Paige Haywood is tied with ASU’s Ar. Lewis for the most points in the conference with 11 and leads the SWAC in points per match (1.57).

Who’s hot

Lady Hornets junior forward Lexi Krieger has recorded three goals in her past two matches and was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week for play from September 12-18.

Krieger had also scored in the game against Jacksonville State that was cancelled due to lightning on Sept. 11.

“We took her from a target player and put her out wide where she has a little more space to run,” Smith said.

“She’s found some really good spots and she is combining really well with Ariela [Lewis] and Aaliyah [Lewis] up front.  The midfielders are doing a good job.  So, the better that we can do of keeping the ball, then we’ll be able to find her in better positions as well.  She’s certainly finding a little bit of rhythm offensively and that’s a good thing for us.”

Racking up the points

Alabama State holds four of the top five individual slots among the SWAC’s leading scorers.

Among them are Ar. Lewis (11 points), Aa. Lewis (eight points), Inma Martinez (seven points) and Krieger (six points).

They are ranked tied for first, third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Offensive power

As of matches through September 22, Alabama State ranks first in the conference in goals (16), goals per match (2.00), assists (nine), assists per match (1.19), points (41), and shots (79).