OXFORD, Miss. - Anticipation for preseason practice caused time to slow to a crawl for the student-athletes and coaches alike, but that all changed Wednesday when the Rebel soccer team hit the pitch for the first practice of the preseason.
Ole Miss, which held the first of two practices Wednesday morning, started work for the 2013 season with a spirited practice at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium at 8 a.m. The Rebels will open the season in two short weeks, hosting Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 23.
"It was nice to get out here today and have a great day to work with and get off to a great start," said Ole Miss head coach Matt Mott. "This morning we worked a lot on some fitness stuff, some short technical stuff with movement and the speed of the game. Tonight when we take the field for our second practice, we'll do 11-on-11 and focus much more on the tactical thinking and game-related work."
When the squad hit the field, the coaches were excited by several things - most notably the fitness level of the returning players and the work ethic of the newcomers, and the technique and play of the squad in the short opening practice.
"We're really fit, definitely the most fit we've been to start a preseason since I've been here," Mott said. "We look strong. The players who were here all summer look really strong and the four or five who weren't here did lots of work over the summer and look good. We are in a better spot than we've ever been from a fitness standpoint.
It's an exciting prospect after the first practice with nine new members joining a squad that featured 10 newcomers a year ago. This year's squad - that only seeks to replace three seniors from a successful 2012 campaign - features six seniors and a junior to go along with the talented underclass.
Adding to the excitement is the return of the Southeastern Conference's leading goal scorers from a year ago in Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza. The pair earned All-SEC honors from the league's coaches and tied for the conference lead with 13 goals and 33 points each last season.
The Rebels also return junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick, who helped Ole Miss post eight shutout victories a year ago and a school-record 483 consecutive shutout minutes as part of an eight-game win streak to open the year.
Preseason practice will continue over the course of the next two weeks for the Rebels, who will alternate between single practice days and two-a-day sessions at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium until the opener against the Ragin' Cajuns.
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