The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Column: MSU soccer deserved to make it to the NCAA Tournament

For many fans, the 2018 Mississippi State University soccer season has been a confusing one. The MSU media has been filled with reports of the Bulldogs’ historic season, while MSU’s RPI soared to previously unreached heights, exciting those surrounding the program. However, the team eventually fell short of the 10-team SEC tournament, bewildering those unfamiliar with the might of SEC women’s soccer.

The majority of the Bulldogs’ problems stemmed from one significant problem— lack of finishing. MSU averaged 17 shots per SEC matchup, third in the conference. As for goals in a game, MSU sits at 11th, with 0.9. Their goal-to-shot ratio in conference play ended at 9:170, or just 5.3 percent.

Comparatively, the SEC regular season champion Vanderbilt University concluded SEC play with a shot to goal percentage of 18.3. However, as the Bulldogs await their potential NCAA tournament bid, they know these finishing struggles cannot and will not be what defined their season.

Women’s soccer in the SEC had long fallen in the shadows of football season. Football is simply a bigger part of southern culture, and as such, these smaller sports can be often overlooked. Regardless, women soccer players work through the same grueling schedules and put forth just as much effort. This effort has been a talking point from head coach Tom Anagnost all season long, something evident to fans and opponents alike.  

Even though they do not often receive the recognition they deserve, this year’s successes have captivated the attention of the student body, drawing in record-breaking crowds and bringing about significant amounts of exposure for the team.

This exposure has been a long time coming for several senior athletes who have helped advance the program over the course of their time at MSU. Courtney Robicheaux, a senior defender from Mandeville, Louisiana, has accumulated 67 starts since she first arrived in 2015. Of those 67, she has played every minute in 51 of those games. She leads this year’s squad in field minutes with 1,507, and has only missed 48 minutes of SEC play in four years. 

Carley Mauldin, a senior from Laurel, is the only current player to have more starts than Robicheaux, with 70. Those 70 starts represent every single MSU game since she joined the team. She led the Bulldogs in field minutes in both her freshman and sophomore outings, and was named to the All-SEC second team in 2018.  

Perhaps the most key senior this season has been goalkeeper Rhylee DeCrane, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. DeCrane has had a record-breaking season, and now holds the MSU single season shutout record with eight. That number is currently tied for 22nd in the nation this year.  

These three seniors, along with other seniors Jen Huckaby, a midfielder from Frisco, Texas, and Brooke McKee, a forward from Huntsville, Alabama, both because of their play and leadership, have been instrumental to MSU’s historic season and the continued rise of the program. They absolutely deserve to see their hard work pay off in the form of MSU’s first ever NCAA tournament bid.  

It is not just upperclassmen who are getting work done, freshmen have been just as significant for the 2018 Bulldogs. Zakirah McGillivary, from Brooklyn, New York, leads the team in goals with eight. She was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team. Miranda Carrasco, a defender from Cypress, Texas, has been another key play for MSU, starting all 17 games in her freshman year. In the opinion of this writer, she also should have been named to the SEC All-Freshman team. 

Statistically, the Bulldogs’ record is not enough to get them into the tournament. When combined with their strength of schedule, however, the stats tell a different story. SEC teams each play 10 opponents in conference play, leaving three out of their schedule. For MSU, those three in-conference non-opponents had an average RPI of 126.  

Their conference opponents, on the other hand, had an average RPI of 29. This incredible difference left MSU with an uphill battle to make it in to the conference tournament. Even in the power-conference that is the SEC, the Bulldogs managed to go .500 against the conference’s final four teams in tournament play.  

This strength of schedule has already been noticed by the NCAA, allowing the team to currently maintain an RPI of 19 in the nation. This should be enough to get them in, as the NCAA tournament is composed of 64 teams. However, 31 of these teams will be automatic qualifiers as conference champions, leaving only 33 at-large spots. While players and fans remain confident about their chances, MSU found themselves in a similar spot last year, and wound up missing the tournament.

So, why should you care? To be honest, you should care because they deserve it. They have battled through one of the nation’s most difficult schedules with effort and leadership constantly on display.  

Their senior and junior classes are made up of players who have permanently improved the national standing of MSU’s women’s soccer, and the underclassmen are players who will indubitably continue this improvement.  

They have contributed to a historic season, one that is deserving to come to an end in the NCAA tournament.

But above all, you should root for them because they are Bulldogs. 

When the NCAA Tournament teams were announced on Monday and MSU made the list, they deserved their first tournament bid in program history. MSU will host Lipscomb in the first round at a time and date to be determined.

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
Column: MSU soccer deserved to make it to the NCAA Tournament