BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Samford head women’s soccer coach Todd Yelton said when you combine high character and a touch of humility, that’s when the magic happens. 

Those were the words Yelton used to describe the 2023 Bulldogs, who are already on pace for a memorable campaign. They are the only non-SEC team out of the 10 programs in Tuesday’s United Soccer Coaches Southeast Region Rankings, checking in at No. 8

Though Samford stands at 2-1-3, its proven it can stand toe-to-toe with the SEC. In the Bulldogs’ season opener, they traveled to Auburn and battled it out to a scoreless draw. They recorded the same result at Ole Miss on Aug. 31. In their home contest versus No. 5 Alabama on Sunday, they fought to another 0-0 final. They also downed Big 12 foe Oklahoma, 4-0, on Aug. 27.

“They’re a great group of kids,” Yelton said. “They’re just really a joy to work with because they have a very workman-like mentality, and I also think the way that they care and love one another creates a dynamic that not every team gets to experience.” 

Bulldog goalkeeper Zoe Clevely transferred to Samford for her final season of eligibility after appearing in games for Pepperdine from 2018-21. She said the program has established a mindset of playing for everyone on the squad. Regardless of the name or conference of their opponent, she said, the Bulldogs are trying to make a name for themselves. 

“I think coach put it really well the day after Alabama,” Clevely said. “Like we play these teams, and a lot of teams are pumped to tie these teams or to not concede and we’re like ‘Oh, there’s something more in there, like this is who we are, and we know we can pull wins out.'”

The Huntington Beach, California, native was named to the Top Drawer Soccer’s National Team of the Week on Tuesday following securing seven total saves against Ole Miss and Alabama. For the second week in a row, she’s received the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week honor

It’s not shocking Clevely is picking up accolades considering she’s allowed two goals in 509 minutes and 42 seconds of action. Outside of a 2-1 loss to DePaul on Aug. 20, the Bulldogs haven’t allowed a ball into the back of the net in 2023. 

Samford soccer and winning are no strangers to each other. The Bulldogs have won nine consecutive Southern Conference regular-season titles in a row and entered the NCAA Tournament seven times since 2005, with three of those appearances coming since 2019. Last season, they made the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 poll for the first time in program history.

Yelton is now in his 22nd season as Samford’s head coach. Yet, after 266 wins in 435 matches with Samford, Yelton is keeping steady at what he knows works best. 

“Everybody else talks about the streak,” Yelton said. “Nine in a row. It’s crazy, right? But we really don’t talk about the streak, and if we’re fortunate enough at the end of it we’ve won it, then we’ll be thankful for it. But we don’t try to get too far out in front of our skis.”

Though the Bulldogs won’t face anymore SEC competition in the regular season, they still have three nonconference games left. They’ll play at Troy on Thursday before hosting Kennesaw State on Sunday. To wrap up the first part of the campaign, they’ll head out to Harvard, who has been in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, on Sept. 14. 

Samford’s conference season kicks off Sept. 21 versus Western Carolina. As the program to beat in the Southern Conference, Yelton said the Bulldogs need to get better in front of the goal but has all the confidence they will. 

Forwards Kyla Reynolds, Nikki Bario, Mia Wehby lead Samford with five points each. Reynolds and Bario each have two goals, along with defender Anna Major. Wehby has put up a team-high three assists. 

“I think it’s really starting to sink in like ‘Oh, we’re amazing,'” Clevely said. “Like individually, we’re capable of amazing things, and then when we do it together, we’re all doing it at the same time, we’re all on the same page, we’re going to be unstoppable. So, I think once the floodgates start opening offensively, no one’s going to know what hit them.”