Sports and stats go hand-and-hand so it was only fitting that Leslie Claybrook, Assistant Commissioner/Championships for the Southeastern Conference, noted during the Coastal Alabama Chamber’s First Friday Forum on Nov. 3 that while SEC soccer celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, over half of the women’s championships have been held in Orange Beach.
“There's a reason why we keep coming back,” she said to a full crowd at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. “It's just a wonderful opportunity for our teams to be down here in a community that supports us. It's a great opportunity for our teams to stay in wonderful luxury condos and really have an awesome experience bonding there outside of what they would normally do during the regular season. And then the folks at the Orange Beach sports complex are tremendous.”
It’s a chance for SEC soccer players to “play on a championship-caliber field,” she added. “So we're excited to be back again.”
The SEC Women’s Soccer Championship has been going on all week at the Orange Beach Sportsplex and Thursday’s semifinal action did not disappoint with No. 8-seeded Arkansas pulling off another tournament upset by beating No. 4-seeded Vanderbilt, and defending champion Florida losing a heartbreaker to Texas A&M. The championship will be televised live on the SEC Network on Sunday with kickoff at 2 p.m.
Longtime Texas A&M Head Coach G. Guerrieri attended the Friday morning forum and Claybrook introduced Guerrieri with his own set of stats - 25 years of coaching the Aggies, nearing his 500th career victory, playing in 4 out of 6 championships since Texas A&M joined the SEC and a current 12-match win streak.
“It’s very nice to be here,” Guerrier said. “I'm the luckiest guy you know. Today is an example of how lucky I am. … I enjoy waking up and going to ‘recess’ every day with some really amazing young women. We're obviously very proud of them but we're also proud of being part of the SEC, and ... one week out of the year, members of your community.”
With a travel party of 47 this year, including parents, family and fans, Guerrier said the community is always welcoming.
“I can tell you for myself, I've really enjoyed coming down to the Orange Beach and coastal Alabama area,” he said. “I brought my family back here for spring break and for other trips. We've kind of tried to get the secret out of what this part of the country is all about. The people are great, the scenery is fantastic, the food is wonderful and the hospitality can't be beat.”
After a few days to catch their breath, Guerrier and his No. 2-seeded Aggies squad will face the feisty Razorbacks on Sunday. Arkansas has beaten No. 9-seeded Ole Miss, No. 1-seeded South Carolina and Vanderbilt, while Texas A&M has topped No. 10-seeded Missouri and the No. 3-seeded Gators, after a Florida player scored an own-goal header in overtime.
“The Road to Orange Beach” has become synonymous with the SEC Women’s Soccer Championship. Orange Beach has a contract to host the conference title tournament through 2020, with an option to extend it to 2025. This year marks the 13th year in a row that the coastal Alabama city, with its slogan “Life is Better Here,” has hosted the championship.
For more information and highlights from this year’s action, go to http://www.secsports.com/clubhouse/soccer.
The Orange Beach Sportsplex is at 4389 William Silvers Parkway, just off Highway 180 (Canal Road) in Orange Beach, about 1 mile from the Foley Beach Express exit on Canal Road. Tickets to watch the games will be available at the gate. Adult tickets are $5 and children (K-12) are $2 per day. Kids are free if they wear their youth soccer jersey.