Sun Belt Conference tournament preview

Sports Reporter

The Texas State soccer team is seeded third in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, a year removed from a 1-0 loss to Western Kentucky in the semifinals.

Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the eight teams in the tournament, which begins Nov. 5.

1. South Alabama Jaguars
Current record: 16-2-1 overall, 8-0-1 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament Champions
This season against TXST: 1-0
Goal differential per game: +2.4 

ANALYSIS

South Alabama, the defending tournament champion, earned the No.1 seed with its best record in program history. The highly-favored Jaguars are unbeaten in their last 15 games. South Alabama freshman forward Charde Hannah leads the Sun Belt in goals with 17 this season. Jaguars freshman forward Rio Hardy has accumulated 10 goals on the opposite side of the field.

COACH CONNER’S TAKE

“South Alabama has phenomenal players up top—Charde, she is phenomenal. We will be constantly pushing her to the left and just keep(ing) her away from that right foot. They have a really great left side. She (Hardy) is a handful also, but I thought our crew did a really good job against her. It’s just that keeping those forwards quiet.”

2. Troy Trojans
Current record: 14-5-0 overall, 6-3-0 conference
Last year’s tournament finish: Eliminated first round by Texas State
This season against TXST: 0-2
Goal differential per game: +1.2 

ANALYSIS

Troy is on a four-game winning streak and has claimed the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Trojans’ formation puts their three dominant forwards in control of the game with two playing high and one underneath. The Trojans’ bottom forward, sophomore Annabell Simpson, constantly feeds the ball to junior midfielder Alissa Jones and junior forward Chelsey Williams. Jones and Williams are both among the top five goal-scorers in the Sun Belt. They have combined for 20 goals in the season. Simpson leads the conference in assists with nine this season.

COACH CONNER’S TAKE

“To beat them (Troy) we will have to keep more possessions than them. We’ll just have to make sure we keep them from their side of the field. They (Troy) go at it and attack you, and it’s kind of like a full piranha attack thrown at you to try to make you make mistakes.”

3. Texas State Bobcats
Current record: 10-6-2 overall, 5-3-1 conference
Finish in last year’s tournament: Eliminated in semifinals by Western Kentucky
Goal differential per game: +0.6

ANALYSIS

The Bobcats enter the tournament as the third seed, setting up a rematch of the regular season finale against Georgia State. Texas State is a well-balanced team with nine players who have scored this season. Lynsey Curry, junior forward, leads the Sun Belt Conference in shots per game, averaging 5.22.

COACH CONNER’S TAKE

“Right now our players seem to be really focused and seem to have the idea that they can do this. I’m pretty excited against anybody, to tell you the truth. When they come ready to play, they are very good. They can do this. I know they can, (and) all 22 that traveled look good and are ready to go.”

4. Georgia Southern Eagles
Current record: 10-5-2 overall, 5-3-1 conference
Finish in last year’s tournament: N/A
This season against TXST: 1-1
Goal differential per game: +0.3

ANALYSIS 

The Eagles forwards, junior Nora El-Shami and sophomore Melinda Lukas, combined for 13 goals this season. Georgia Southern prevented Texas State from accomplishing its offensive game plan with a great “trap” game played by its midfielders, keeping the Bobcats secluded to one side of the field. Eagles Coach Brian Dunleavy utilizes different formations depending on the opposition. 

COACH CONNER’S TAKE

“Georgia Southern has two forwards (El-Shami and Lukas) that are very good at stacking. Then they have a great midfield that works hard. They made sure they were respectful to our midfield and tried to keep us locked in and not let our midfield do what they want to do.”

5. Appalachian State Mountaineers

Current record: 8-10-0 overall, 5-4-0 conference
This season against TXST: 1-2
Goal differential per game: -0.1

ANALYSIS

This is Appalachian State’s first Sun Belt Conference tournament appearance. According to Coach Sarah Strickland, the players have regained focus and will be ready to meet the Eagles again. The Mountaineers pride themselves on their work ethic and will present a tricky match-up against any opponent. This season the Mountaineers lost to the No.1 seed South Alabama and No. 3 seed Texas State in overtime. However, they beat the No. 2 seed, Troy. 

6. Georgia State PanthersCurrent record: 6-9-4 overall, 4-4-1 conference
Finish in last year’s tournament: Eliminated first round by South Alabama
This season against TXST: 1-0
Goal differential per game: -0.1

ANALYSIS

Georgia State has the mental edge over its quarterfinal opponent, Texas State, after handing the Bobcats their third conference loss of the season. Panthers senior forward Whitney Ravan is tied for first in the Sun Belt with six goals and tied for second in points.

COACH CONNER’S TAKE

“Georgia State will be tough because they beat us in that last time. It is going to be more of a mental game for us to get over that. I think the players are focused enough that they will.”

7. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Current record: 9-7-2 overall, 4-4-1 conference
Finish in last year’s tournament: Eliminated first round by Arkansas State
This season against TXST: 1-2
Goal differential per game: +0.8

ANALYSIS

Louisiana-Lafayette may be the most balanced team in the conference. The Ragin’ Cajuns have 20 players that have tallied points this season and nine with at least two goals apiece.

The team plays an effective “short ball” style of game. Louisiana-Lafayette is the only team South Alabama did not defeat in conference play.

8. Arkansas Little Rock Trojans

Current record: 11-7-1 overall, 2-6-1 conference

Finish in last year’s tournament: Eliminated first round by Western Kentucky

This season against TXST: 1-2

Goal differential per game: +1.3

ANALYSIS

UALR received the No. 8 seed in the tournament and is coming off its best program record with 11 total wins. The Trojans play a similar style of game to Texas State. Both teams attempt to find players behind the defenders to attack the opponent. The Trojans will have a tough battle against No. 1 seed South Alabama as they will try to spread their opponent’s offense and stretch the field.