OLE MISS

Fit, Deep Rebels Report for Fall Camp

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Coming off the program's fifth-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and a school-record 15 wins this past season, the Ole Miss soccer team returned to the pitch for the first practice of the preseason on Wednesday.

The Rebels open the 2014 season with the first-ever live event broadcast on the SEC Network when they host Georgia on Friday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. CT.

"It's good to be back," head coach Matt Mott said. "It's nice to be out here. Our team is really fit. They did a great job on the fitness test. It's the fittest team I have been a part of in my 22 years. They are extremely fit. Our strength coach, Randy Dorvin, has done a great job with them all summer. It's a typical first day. We probably could have been sharper, but the energy and intensity was high.

"Our team did really well," senior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick said. "We had high intensity. Our fitness was really good. We were performing like it's the middle of the season and we're ready to play a good opponent."

Ole Miss made history this past season, not only setting a school record for wins, but also hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the first time and winning its second NCAA Tournament game in five trips to the annual event, but the team wants more entering the 2014 season.

"It goes to the character of these guys," Mott said. "They're tight already as a team. They pushed each other all summer and they wanted to come into fall camp fit. All spring and into fall camp, we have said that we're not going to be a one-hit wonder and disappear again. Our goal is to get back into the top 25 and into the top half of the SEC."

Despite losing two of the program's top four all-time goal-scorers, Rafaelle Souza (1st, 44 goals) and Mandy McCalla (4th, 37 goals), Mott called this year's team his deepest yet, with 17 returning players from last year's squad and five newcomers.

"I feel confident about all 22 (players)," Mott said. "They have come here in really good shape and ready to go. I like all 22 of them. They will all compete, and it will make them better every single day."

"Each year, the coaches have recruited better and better," McCormick said. "My freshman year, we weren't the most talented team, but this year, we have depth in our team and we have players who can come off the bench and play right off the bat."

It starts with McCormick, the lone senior on this year's team who has started all three years for the Rebels and is already the all-time wins leader in goal (34). She posted a 16-6-2 record with 10 shutout wins as a junior.

"She has the right mentality," said Mott of McCormick. "She's a winner. She's absolutely a winner. She has the school record already for wins. Technically, she's really, really clean, which is really important for a goalkeeper. She has done a great job with coach Rob Thompson every single year and she has made big strides. She understands what it takes. She's been in those pressure situations."

Among the five talented newcomers is freshman goalkeeper Marnie Merritt, a high school All-America selection from Huntersville, North Carolina, where she also helped Hough High School to a No. 1 national ranking by ESPN.

"Marnie has come in and she's going to be really good for us," Mott said. "She has a great pedigree. She's learning it right now certainly. Madi Killeen, too. We have three really good goalkeepers, which is an anomaly in women's soccer. I'm comfortable with all three of them. It's a battle right now. Certainly Kelly is the leader because she's been our starter, but she has a battle on her hands with the other two coming in behind her."

On the field, Ole Miss returns all six players (Melissa Capocaccia, Maddie Friedmann, Gretchen Harknett, Jessica Hiskey, Georgia Russell and Samantha Sanders) who drew starts along the back line, with Harknett and Hiskey moving to the midfield. 

The Rebels also return forwards Olivia Harrison, Addie Forbus and Bethany Bunker, who combined for 17 of the team's goals last season.

"If you look at Bethany Bunker, Addie Forbus and Olivia Harrison, all those guys had six or seven goals, which on most teams is a good number of goals," Mott said. "We just scored so many goals last year with Rafa and Mandy, it got skewed. Those three had great seasons with tons of assists, so I feel good about our ability to score. We'll have a scoring punch."

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