GSU’s Pena wins top SWAC honor as Lady Tigers open tourney

Junior striker Kailey Pena, running through her teammates at lineup introductions, leads Grambling into the SWAC soccer tournament beginning today. (Photo by TAY TAPES)

Staff writer

Grambling’s best sport over the last 3-4 years? You can make a case for the Lady Tigers soccer program, which plays a first-round match today in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament at Prairie View, Texas.

The Lady Tigers, seeded second, have a rematch of last Friday’s 3-2 win at UAPB. The winner of the 5:30 quarterfinal advances to the 5:30 semifinal Friday against either third-seeded tournament host Prairie View or Southern. The tournament final is at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Prairie View Soccer Complex.

Grambling won the 2018 SWAC regular-season championship and made its second straight appearance in the SWAC Tournament final, but fell short of its first NCAA Tournament appearance. After a semifinal berth in 2019, the 2020 season didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 onslaught.

That pause also included a leadership transition, with new head coach Craig Roberts taking the helm a week before this spring’s season debut. After an understandable erratic start, including a surprising 3-2 homefield loss to Prairie View, the Lady Tigers (6-2-1, 6-1-1) are unbeaten since and have won their last four matches.

On Wednesday, junior striker Kailey Pena was announced as the SWAC’s Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection. She was the league’s top scorer with 13 goals, two in last Friday’s comeback victory, including the game-winner with four minutes left.

Junior midfielder Haylee O’Leary joined her on the SWAC first team. Junior defender Kamaron Powell and freshman midfielder Paula Burillo-Blasco earned second-team All-SWAC honors.

Grambling narrowly missed winning the SWAC regular-season crown. Alabama State scored in overtime last Friday night at Alabama A&M to claim the title. Those teams tied 1-1 at Montgomery, Alabama, on March 7.

GSU is the highest rated SWAC team in the NCAA ratings index used to determine seedings for the NCAA Tournament.

UAPB (4-7, 1-7) provides a solid test in the opening round. By advancing, the Lady Tigers would face either Prairie View (5-3, 5-2) or Southern (2-4, 2-2) in Friday evening’s semifinal round. The semis and final will be streamed on the SWAC Digital Network through SWAC.org.


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