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Spencer Parlier | NCAA.com | September 18, 2019

Women’s college soccer: 5 things to know before SEC play kicks off

Women's soccer plays of the week

SEC play gets started with a trio of games on Sept. 19. with Florida taking on LSU, Kentucky hosting Auburn and 15th-ranked Texas A&M visiting Mississippi State. 

It's been 21 years since the last time an SEC team won the women's College Cup — Florida in 1998 — but several teams look to be in the mix for this year's top prize. 

Here's everything you need to know about the SEC before conference play kicks off:

South Carolina's defense could carry them deep into the postseason 

The Gamecocks are sitting on an impressive 5-1 record as they enter conference play. Notable wins over NC State, Purdue and Notre Dame highlight their success over non-conference foes and are a testament to the Gamecocks' stout and veteran defense. Their back wall is led by senior goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski, senior Grace Fisk and Florida State-transfer Anna Patten. The three, who are the cornerstones to this South Carolina defense, have combined for two shutouts, have allowed only three goals all season and have helped the Gamecocks get to conference play with only one loss. Watch out for the 9th-ranked Gamecocks this season as they look to take their defensive dominance into the SEC. 

Vanderbilt has one of the most lethal pairs in the country on offense

As South Carolina hopes to scare opponents with its devastating defense, Vanderbilt hopes to do the same with its offense. Haley Hopkins and Maddie Elwell are quickly becoming two of the most dangerous offensive players in the country. Hopkins, who leads the SEC in goals scored, is also tied for second in the country in total goals with nine. That puts her tied for second in the country with defending MAC Hermann trophy winner Catarina Macario and Virginia's Diana Ordonez. The 7-1 Commodores also have a playmaker in the middle who opens the field up for Hopkins. Her name? Maddie Elwell. The midfielder from Ambler, Pennsylvania leads the conference in assists with six and is tied for fourth in the country in the category. This No. 17 Vanderbilt squad is hoping to bounce back after losing to Louisville over the weekend. They'll get a test early-on in SEC play as they open against Tennessee on Sept. 22. 

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After knocking off No. 1 North Carolina, Arkansas looks to be the darkhorse of the SEC

From men's college basketball to field hockey, early-season upsets have a special place in the hearts of teams who hope to break-out. There is no better example of that this women's soccer season than Arkansas. The Razorbacks are fresh off of a 2-0 upset of top-ranked North Carolina and hope to keep the ball rolling in SEC play. Although Arkansas hasn't been perfect in the early stages of the season, as they lost to Oklahoma and tied with Minnesota before shocking UNC, they have been, statistically, the best team in the conference. The Razorbacks lead all SEC teams in shots, points, goals, goals per game, assists, assists per game, goals allowed and goals allowed average. No. 16 Arkansas will get conference play rolling as they host Alabama on Sept. 22, and then will get their first big conference test as Vanderbilt comes to town. 

Florida looks to bounce back after a rocky start to the season

Florida Athletics Florida Gators women's soccer Florida will hope to bounce back after a rough start to the season
 

There weren't many teams who had a tougher non-conference schedule than Florida this season. The Gators, who are 4-4, started the season strong and then quickly fell in a hole after dropping four straight against non-conference foes. Florida came out strong with wins against Florida Atlantic and No. 18 South Florida but quickly felt the wrath of the west coast as they dropped two games against Los Angeles powerhouses then No. 5 USC and No. 4 UCLA. The Gators then traveled back to their home state before dropping two more against in-state foes No. 6 Florida State and UCF. UF rallied and went on to knock off Florida Gulf Coast and Miami to balance their record at 4-4. After losing to South Carolina in the 2017 College Cup quarterfinals, Florida struggled last season, going 7-10-4 and missing the NCAA tournament. This year, the only team from the SEC to ever win the College Cup looks to bounce back. They'll start SEC play against the defending conference champs in Baton Rouge taking on LSU on Sept. 19. 

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With LSU as the defending champs, the SEC embraces parity in 2019 

LSU Athletics LSU women's soccer SEC champions LSU is looking to repeat as SEC champions this year
 

Fresh off of their first-ever SEC championship, the LSU Tigers had their expectations quelled early this season. At No. 24 in the preseason rankings, the Tigers dropped their first game of the season against an unranked Villanova squad 1-0. The Tigers then won two straight before tieing Samford and losing three straight against North Carolina, Duke and Arizona State. 2018 was LSU's first SEC championship, as other SEC teams see a rare opportunity in a conference that has been dominated by Florida and Texas A&M this decade. Out of the past nine years, the Gators and the Aggies account for seven SEC championships with the only other teams being Auburn in 2011 and LSU in 2018 to win it all. Teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Tennessee hope to add to this potential parity that LSU brought into the conversation last year, and with Florida stumbling out of the gate, a new champion could easily emerge in 2019. 

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