Jennifer Miller and the Rebels open the 2014 season against Georgia on Friday night.
Aug. 20, 2014
OXFORD, Miss. - When the Rebels take to the field this weekend against the Georgia Bulldogs to open the 2014 season, it will be with a group of experienced players in the midfield as Ole Miss looks to pick up a Southeastern Conference victory and kick off the year with success.
The midfield won't look the same as it has in the past, however, as the Rebels look to replace a pair of four-year starters with the graduation of All-America selection Mandy McCalla and two-time captain Erin Emerson.
Junior Jennifer Miller returns to anchor the midfield after starting the previous two seasons, but it will be alongside two teammates who are new to the position with the Rebels, even if they aren't new faces on the field.
Junior Jessica Hiskey and sophomore Gretchen Harknett move up on the field for 2014 after playing previous seasons with the Rebels as strong members of a backline that posted 10 shutouts a year ago and helped Ole Miss to a school record 16 wins and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"We're very excited about our midfield," Mott said. "Jenn is back for us and she looks really sharp. She's the general for us and understands where the ball needs to go. We're a better team when she touches the ball because she makes great decisions and is so dangerous."
Miller has been a threat in the midfield for the Rebels since she stepped on campus prior to the 2012 season. The diminutive player stands out in the crowd as she zips through defenders to pass the ball off for a score or finishes on her own. As a freshman, she posted a pair of goals before upping that total to four goals and three assists last season as a sophomore.
Add to the mix a pair of defenders who have been known to quickly take the ball and move forward on the attack in Harknett and Hiskey, and the Rebels feel they have an excellent trio in place to help control the middle of the field in 2014.
"Gretchen will move back to her natural position and replace Mandy (McCalla) as an attacking middle," Mott said. "She's a very athletic and dynamic midfielder. She can defend well and shoot with both feet from distance. She brings us the best long-range shooting we've had since I got here. She also has played club soccer with forward Addie Forbus, so they play well off each other and that will help us.
"Jessica will move to a holding mid position to take the place of Erin (Emerson)," Mott said. "She's extremely mobile, tough and tenacious. She's good with the ball and will win a lot of air balls. We really look for her to anchor our midfield. She's a player that possesses all the qualities you would include if you were to design your holding midfielder."
The three aren't going at it alone this season. The Rebels added a trio of freshmen to the mix who all have pushed for playing time in the preseason and are expected to see significant minutes on the field this season.
"Amanda is very good with the ball and is another strong presence in the air. She's good with the ball and is a playmaker. Liza will get a lot of minutes to help us in the rotation and is a fantastic athlete. She has possibly the highest vertical leap I've seen in a women's soccer player. Bella will also factor into the depth as she continues to work her way back from injury."
The athleticism at the midfield is one that excites the coaching staff with several players who possess range and agility that will help in transition as the Rebels look to move the ball forward quickly or recover defensively to turn away an opponent's attack.
"We have to replace a couple of very smart players in Erin and Mandy, but also a great goal scorer in Mandy," Mott said of his midfield. "I think this group as a whole has better mobility and speed, so we can cover a lot more ground. I think that's a common theme across the team from top to bottom is our speed. We're a faster team all around this season."
Rebel fans get the chance to see the squad in action this weekend with a pair of matches against challenging foes.
Ole Miss opens the season at 6 p.m. against the Georgia Bulldogs in a match that will be televised by the SEC Network and is the first live regular-season event broadcast by the newly launched network. The Rebels will then return to the pitch to take on Iowa State from the Big 12 at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to all matches at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium is free.
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