Nov. 12, 2013
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- Head coach Matthew Mott knew this year's team was special one of the first days of preseason.
For the Ole Miss coaches and players, when they host Jackson State at 7 p.m. Friday, it will be the first time in the NCAA Tournament as Rebels.
"It's special," Mott said. "I'm really excited for this group. Erin Emerson said to me this summer we've got to get to the NCAA Tournament. She's one of the seniors who have been here for four years and been here through the growth, and I agreed with her. Those guys did everything right to get us there."
"It's exciting," said Emerson, one of six seniors on this year's team. "I always wanted to go. I started freshman year, and we didn't get there the past three years, so it's really exciting to be able to play at least once in the NCAA Tournament. It might be my last game on Friday night, so it's bittersweet, but it's exciting to play on that field one more time and hopefully keep going in the NCAA Tournament."
During his first season with the Rebels in 2010, Mott led his program to a 7-9-4 overall record, then 8-10-1 in 2011, 13-9-0 and an SEC Tournament appearance in 2012, and then broke through with a historic season in 2013.
Ole Miss (15-5-2), ranked No. 22 nationally, has tied the school record for wins in a season and has a chance to break that record against Jackson State, having already set a school record with 14 regular-season wins.
"It's been my same staff the whole time I have been here, and I'm really proud of the work we have done," Mott said. "It's hard work paying off, and that's what we're seeing. We came in here and kept fighting hard and working to get there. I'm really proud of our staff, our team and the girls that stayed and bought in."
The turning point in the season, Mott said, was a 2-1 come-from-behind win at Kennesaw State on Sept. 13, the final match of a four-match road swing.
"We had a long bus ride over there," Mott recalled. "We got caught in traffic, so a five-hour trip took eight or nine hours and got to the hotel late, sleep and get up and play Kennesaw State in front of a huge crowd. They were playing really well and we were down in the second half, and so to be able to come back from that, our team realized we had something special, and we did as coaches. That was right before conference play started, and then we got rolling."
In the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, the 4th-seeded Rebels blanked 5th-seeded Kentucky, 2-0, as junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick became the program's all-time leader in goalkeeper win and senior Rafaelle Souza tied the career mark with 41 over her three-year Ole Miss career.
"That was probably the best game we have played since I have been the coach here," Mott said. "It was a complete game."
Mott feels that the team is in a really good spot, particularly based on their performances in the last two matches, and they won't be fazed by the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament.
"We're peaking at the right time," Mott said. "I like the way we're playing. We're pretty healthy. I feel good about them and the style we have been playing and the energy the girls are bringing. Everybody is tired at this time of year, but we still have a lot left in the tank.
"These guys don't get rattled. We played down in Texas A&M in front of 2,500 people going crazy and screaming at us, and we handled it really well. They just don't get rattled and look forward to playing and know when they step across the line, it's our 11 versus their 11."
Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children and students. Tickets are available for purchase online here. The first 200 students to the Tad Smith Coliseum until 4 p.m. today or 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday can get one free ticket.
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller