Firmly established as one of the premier conferences in soccer, the Southeastern Conference begins its 28th season this weekend.
The 2020 SEC soccer season will start on Friday, September 18, when Mississippi State visits Auburn for a 7 p.m. ET match that will be shown on SEC Network. The season will consist of an eight-match, Conference-only regular season over eight weeks of competition, followed by the SEC Championship, November 13-22, in Orange Beach, Alabama. All 14 schools will compete in the SEC Championship with each team guaranteed at least two matches.
"We are all excited to hear the news and to have some certainty," said South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith. "We have been preparing to play and to now know the work we have been putting in will be able to be tested is great. We are looking forward to getting on the field and playing against our conference opponents."
More than 28 regular season matches are scheduled to be available to a national television audience this year on SEC Network and ESPNU. Additionally, other matches will be available digitally on SEC Network+.
The SEC is returning plenty of star power from last season. Twenty players (out of 35 possible) that earned All-SEC honors last year return for the 2020 campaign. Included in that group is Midfielder of the Year Jimena Lopez (AM) and Co-Defensive Player of the Year Haley VanFossen (AR) and first team selections Kayla Bruster (UG), Channing Foster (UM), Parker Goins (AR), Taylor Malham (AR), Anna Podojil (AR), Reyna Reyes (UA) and Parker Roberts (UF).
The SEC had five teams selected to participate in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Two teams earned national seeds and four teams earned the right to host their opening round match on their home pitch.
Over the last nine years, the SEC has earned 63 NCAA Tournament bids - an average of seven per year - with all 14 member institutions making at least one appearance during that span. Eight different SEC teams have advanced to the Round of 16 since 2013 and the league has placed teams in the NCAA quarterfinals in each of the last six seasons.
Arkansas' 8-1-1 league record earned the Razorbacks their first SEC Championship in 2019. South Carolina earned its second SEC Tournament championship with a 2-0 win over Arkansas in Orange Beach, Ala.
The SEC's balance has been shown in league play as five different teams - Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt - have won SEC regular season titles in the last nine seasons. Also, five different teams - Auburn, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M - have won SEC Tournament championships since 2011.
In 2019, Texas A&M's Ally Watt and Lopez were named the SEC Forward and SEC Midfielder of the year, respectively. Arkansas' VanFossen and South Carolina's Grace Fisk shared SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors while South Carolina's Mikayla Krzeczowski was named SEC Goalkeeper of the Year. Arkansas' Colby Hale was named SEC Coach of the Year and the Razorbacks' Podojil was Freshman of the Year. Alabama's Nealy Martin, Mississippi State's MaKayla Waldner and Missouri's Sarah Luebbert were SEC Co-Scholar-Athletes of the Year.
Five SEC players earned All-America honors from the United Soccer Coaches, including first team selections Fisk and Watt. Krzeczowski, VanFossen and Podojil each earned third team honors.
SEC's players have garnered 51 All-America awards from the United Soccer Coaches since 2011. SEC players have earned 12 first team All-America honors during that time and three have earn multiple first team honors (South Carolina's Sabrina D'Angelo in 2013 and 2014; South Carolina's Savannah McCaskill in 2016 and 2017; and South Carolina's Fisk in 2018 and 2019).
Alabama's Martin was a 2019 First Team CoSIDA Academic All-America while South Carolina's Fisk was named the United Soccer Coaches Scholar Player of the Year. Ten SEC players earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors this past season.
SEC fans have taken notice of the conference's rise nationally. The SEC has had at least five teams rank in the Top 25 nationally in attendance in eight of the last nine years. South Carolina and Texas A&M have both ranked in the Top Five in each of the last six years with the Aggies leading the nation with an average of 2,652 fans per game in 2018.
The incremental growth, combined with increasing exposure on the national and regional scene, has SEC women's soccer looking to blossom to new heights in the year 2020 and beyond.