Dec. 12, 2012
OXFORD, Miss. – When the Ole Miss soccer team took the field in the preseason to prepare for the 2012 campaign it was with optimism and an air of excitement for year three of the Matt Mott era as the Rebels returned one of the most explosive scoring threats in the Southeastern Conference and welcomed a group of 12 newcomers to the squad.
A slogan of “Breathe Later” was always in the thoughts of a young team that focused on the goals in front of them; and all other things – including taking that next breath – could be considered later.
With the 2012 campaign in the books, the squad can take that next breath and know that it was a season with goals achieved but a hunger for continued growth remains.
“We came out of the gates with a great start and preseason and set the tone for the season,” Mott said. “We had great team chemistry and that set the table for a quick start. A big win in front of a great crowd in the first match propelled us into the non-conference slate and we got off to a great start. The team really bought into our goals and what it means to be an Ole Miss soccer player. We’ve set a great foundation for the future.”
The Rebels opened the season with a 3-1 victory over Saint Louis in front of a crowd of more than 1,300 fans to kick off the best start to a season in Ole Miss history. The squad rattled off eight consecutive wins, including four straight shutout victories, to best the previous mark of seven straight wins to open a season set in 2003.
In that eight win stretch to open the season, the Rebels got a glimpse of what the season would hold as juniors Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza exploded offensively. The pair would finish the year atop the SEC statistically, leading the league in goals and points with each player notching 13 goals and 33 points on the season to pace one of the top athletic conferences in the nation.
McCalla and Souza would go on to be named All-SEC selections by the league’s coaches, while Souza would also claim All-Region honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. McCalla was tabbed a third team All-America selection by CollegeSportsMadness.com and both were named to the online publication’s All-SEC team. McCalla was also named the publication’s Offensive Player of the Year in the SEC.
Souza was named the SEC Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year with a 3.72 GPA in Engineering and garnered Capital One Academic All-District honors from the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
It wasn’t all McCalla and Souza this season, however, as the Rebels put 10 freshmen on the field and welcomed 12 newcomers to the program prior to the start of the season.
“I was really happy with our freshman group as a whole and the way these guys came together and a lot of them played a lot of minutes; especially with the play of the back line where we had three freshmen play almost every minute of the season with Maddie Friedmann, Samantha Sanders and Jessica Hiskey,” Mott said. “Jennifer Miller had a great start up in the middle before an injury. Sara Coleman, Bethany Bunker, Sydney Eddy and Olivia Harrison were great up front with Rafa (Souza) and Mandy (McCalla).
“Brooke Theobald helped us in the middle and front line, combining with our two veterans in Alix Hildal and Erin Emerson as those two really helped solidify our midfield as holding mids.”
The immediate impact of the freshmen combined with the experienced veterans was evident as the Rebels put a balanced attack on the field. Thirteen different players scored in 2012 while 11 different players notched assists on those goals to help the Rebels finish third in the SEC in goals scored.
Harrison led the way among freshmen with six goals, while Coleman turned in three goals. Both notched game-winners; with Harrison’s coming on the road at Troy and Coleman’s coming at home against Kentucky. Both were shutout victories for the Rebels.
All told, five freshmen notched game-winners on the season. Miller put the ball in the net to push the Rebels past Middle Tennesse, while Hiskey and Sanders helped Ole Miss to a weekend sweep with game-winners at Vanderbilt and South Carolina, respectively.
A big part of the offense having the opportunity for those game-winning goals came off the play of the back line, and notably the performance of sophomore goalkeeper Kelly McCormick.
“Our goalkeeping play was excellent with Kelly having another year under her belt,” Mott said. “She took a leap forward, very much like the team did, from her freshman year to her sophomore year and established herself as one of the better goalkeepers in the SEC and as someone we can count on. She will make the saves to keep us in games and pull out games.
“She almost single-handedly beat Alabama with some amazing saves. I think we can look back on that game and say that was a bit of a turning point in our season for us in conference play.”
McCormick helped the Rebels post eight shutout victories on the season, including a stretch of four consecutive shutout wins in the eight-game win streak to open the year. The sophomore set the school record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal in that stretch, holding opponents off the board for 488 minutes straight.
She also picked up three shutout wins in SEC play (at Alabama, at Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky) before blanking LSU in the SEC Tournament to send the Rebels into the quarterfinals against the top-seeded Florida Gators.
She was twice named SEC Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts in goal.
All of that bodes well for the future and brings a greater sense of excitement and expectation to the coaching staff and players when looking toward the 2013 season. Mott is quick to point out the return of several players who have seen significant minutes for the Rebels like Maddie Cunningham and Emily Reid who will comprise an outstanding senior class along with Emerson, McCalla and Souza.
“You win at a high level with seniors, so we will rely heavily on these five guys who have played a lot of significant minutes for us in their career,” Mott said. “But we also have a sophomore class now that has logged lots of minutes and really grown up. We have what I believe to be a really good freshman class coming in and return Kelly (McCormick) as our starting goalkeeper; and that’s exciting.
“The NCAA Tournament is the goal we have to shoot for and is the level our team is at,” Mott said. “Once you get into the tournament it becomes one game at a time and you see what you can do. We’re looking forward to a good spring season to get everyone better and prepare us for an exciting fall in 2013.”