Sept. 14, 2012
OXFORD, Miss. – We all have an infatuation as a child whether it be that food we have to eat at every meal, the favorite toy we carry with us everywhere or a flavor of ice cream we have to eat and no other will do.
For many of us, it’s an affection that may last a year or two until that toy is lost or left in the yard as a new toy gains our attention, that favorite book we must have read to us at bedtime is put on a shelf or we finally decide that another flavor of ice cream might actually be ok.
But for some, that affection is one that can’t ever be shaken and no matter where else we may look or how we may try, we always keep coming back.
For Mandy McCalla, a junior on the Ole Miss soccer team, that infatuation that grew into a lifetime love began with a wall in the back yard where she would go every day and kick a soccer ball starting as young as four or five years old.
“All I did was soccer,” McCalla said with a laugh. “We had this huge yard and my sister and I would go out and kick a soccer ball against this brick wall every day. We would just blast the ball against that wall for hours and hours. I didn’t want to stop.”
That love continued to develop over time and no matter what other sports McCalla might pursue, she couldn’t quite shake it. The Georgia native tried her hand at other sports, to be sure, giving it a go on the softball diamond and on other fields of play. But try as she might, the call of the soccer pitch was too strong.
“Softball was ok, but it was so slow paced and there wasn’t enough running for me,” McCalla said with a laugh. “The mental aspect of soccer and the fact that you’re always thinking and evaluating where the next pass is, where the ball is, where your mark is and all the thinking – it’s just so much going on while you’re on the field.”
And so, it was there she found herself spending most of her days growing up. And she’s continued pursuing that love for the last 16 years.
McCalla spent summers playing club soccer with hometown friend and current teammate Erin Emerson and developing the skills that would lead to her catching the eye of college coaches around the country, but particularly in the southeast – and the Southeastern Conference.
The child of Auburn graduates and growing up in the heart of Bulldog country in Georgia, McCalla was no stranger to the rivalries and die hard love for sports in the SEC. It was something that was very familiar to her and peaked her interest when trying to decide where to go to school and play soccer.
There was only one thing that was a given – she would continue to play soccer collegiately with Emerson.
The two talked about their choices constantly, weighing their options between Ole Miss, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina. After a visit to Oxford, the decision was an easy one for McCalla.
“I just loved the campus, and still do – it’s beautiful,” McCalla said. “I loved the team and the chemistry and camaraderie. I haven’t been to a college town more beautiful than Oxford. The sense of pride in Ole Miss and Oxford stood out so much when I visited. I wanted to be a part of it.”
She arrived in Oxford for the 2010 season and immediately made an impact on the squad and in the SEC, earning a spot on the All-Freshman team when the league’s coaches made their selections for post-season honors.
McCalla followed that up with a solid sophomore season a year ago, finishing the season second on the team with five goals and third in points with 14. She hit the game-winning goal against Mississippi State to end the season and has used that performance – one she calls her best memory as a Rebel – to build on for this season.
That foundation has been a solid one so far this year as McCalla has helped the Rebels post a 6-0 start to the year through the first three weeks of play. The junior leads the squad in goals with seven and hit the game-winning goal against Saint Louis in the season opener and again against Texas Tech.
She has goals for the squad she’d like to achieve but she won’t talk about them too much beyond winning a championship for Ole Miss and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament before she finishes her eligibility.
But ask her about her teammates and the face brightens up and she’s not so tight-lipped. She immediately launches into a speech about how lucky she is to have them, whether it is the talented upperclassmen she’s played with for two years, or the 11 freshmen on the squad.
“They are a driven bunch and each of them has something to add to the team,” McCalla said. “They are physical in the back line and we have speed and precision at the midfield and the front. They are so tactical and technical. You wouldn’t know they are freshmen they have been so dominant. They were ready to play when they came in.
“I just hope we’re setting the example for them as upperclassmen, that’s what we have to do and I hope we’re doing a good job of that,” McCalla said.
The Rebels kick off Southeastern Conference play this weekend with a pair of home matches against Arkansas and conference newcomer Texas A&M.