With just two days before its debut in the Southeastern Conference tournament, Georgia soccer is without 13 players due to positive COVID-19 tests, subsequent contact tracing and various injuries.
Of the 13 Bulldogs who will not participate in the meeting with Auburn, nine are out due to positive COVID-19 tests or from having close contact with those test positive and four remain out with injury. Assistant coach Robert Lane will also miss the game due to a positive coronavirus result, but head coach Billy Lesesne will return to the pitch after testing positive and self-isolating in the last weeks.
Many of the sick or injured players make up the starting defensive line, a group of players that contributed to much of the Bulldogs’ success in the regular season. But senior defender Caroline Chipman emphasized the team’s defensive depth, arguing that although many of her fellow starters won’t take the field with her on Sunday, there are multiple able-bodied teammates to take their places.
“I think we’ve adjusted really well,” Chipman said. “I think a lot of people don't get to see the depth of our team, so I'm feeling pretty confident going into the game that we'll be able to hold our ground.”
The Bulldogs will take on Auburn on Sunday evening to begin their unusual conference tournament experience. Auburn ended Georgia’s four-game unbeaten streak mid-season, a streak that the Bulldogs were unable to rekindle for the remainder of the regular season.
“We were actually all hoping that we would see them again in the tournament,” Chipman said. “So it's kind of perfect that we get to play them in the first round because we felt like we really missed an opportunity to beat them. And you know what they say, it's really hard to beat a team twice.”
Players on the team are taking on the challenge with a positive attitude despite having to face it without many of their teammates. Fellow senior Ashley Andersen echoed Chipman’s sentiments about facing the Tigers again.
“I'm really excited to get a crack at them again, and we're gonna have young kids step up,” Andersen said. “Yes, we had a horrible COVID outbreak in the last week or two, but it's exciting to see how strong this Georgia family is. And I can't wait to go to battle with them on Sunday.”
Georgia is arriving at the tournament after taking three consecutive losses to finish the regular season, not including the canceled season finale against Missouri. The combination of losses, a canceled final home game and numerous positive COVID-19 tests gives the Bulldogs a chip on their shoulder and a desire to put everything they have onto the field.
“You play a regular season so that you get to compete in the postseason and here's our opportunity,” Lesesne said. “Our form hadn't been great [in recent games] from a result standpoint but I do think we played fairly well in those matches. I think we've got the talent to compete in this league and I think our team's really excited to show that when we get to Orange Beach.”