“Great moments are born from great opportunities.” That’s what USA head coach Herb Brooks told his group of ragtag college hockey players in the locker room as they prepared to take on Russia in the semifinal game of the 1980 Winter Olympics. His team entered the game as the ultimate underdogs, with their roster being primarily comprised of players either fresh out of college or not good enough for professional play. Their opponent was a team that had not lost a game in the Winter Olympics in 12 years. The Russian machine was supposedly undefeatable, and it seemed as though only a miracle would help the Americans prevail. But that’s exactly what happened and the USA won, successfully giving birth to the “Miracle on Ice.”
A great moment was born from the greatest of opportunities, and the 1980 Miracle team is immortalized in American history because of it. And though they may not become one of the greatest stories in American sports, it doesn’t downplay the great opportunity that the Mississippi College Lady Choctaws soccer team has this coming season.
This fall, the Lady Choctaws will dive into their second season as full-time members of the Gulf South Conference, and there’s plenty of reasons to be excited for the year.
In their first season as full-time members in the fall of 2016, MC took the GSC by storm. They turned in a 13-5-2 overall record and a 9-2-1 record in conference play. This performance was good enough to get them third place in the GSC standings and an automatic bid to the GSC Tournament. In the tournament, they almost went the distance (including an upset win in PKs against no. 2 Lee University), but fell just short in a 2-0 loss to the West Florida Argonauts in the championship.
With the loss, MC fell just short of the NCAA Division II playoffs. West Florida earned a spot and advanced to the quarterfinals (final eight) before losing to Columbus State. The Argonauts finished eighth overall in the NCAA D-II Top 25 poll. So in other words, the Lady Choctaws fell two goals short of one of the best teams in Division II. But the past is the past and it’s time to look towards the future.
The Lady Choctaws enter the 2017 season as one of the best teams in the GSC. MC landed third in the preseason coaches’ poll, trailing the same two teams they did in the 2016 final standings (West Florida and Lee). Though they didn’t receive any first-place votes, they earned a top spot because of their solid 2016 performance. But could this be the year that the Lady Choctaws take it one step further? It certainly seems like it could be.
The Lady Choctaws began preseason practice on Monday, Aug. 14 here in Clinton, MS. Since then, they have played two exhibition games against LSUA and Hinds Community College. They beat Hinds by a whopping score of 12-0 and edged LSUA by a score of 1-0 thanks to a goal from junior Daisy Rodgers. The Colleyville, TX native is one of the many Lady Choctaws excited for the season.
“We have a lot of returning talent and new talent,” Rodgers said of the 2017 squad. “Our bench is pretty stacked.”
24 of the 41 players on the Lady Choctaw roster are returners from last season, with nine of them being presumed starters. In addition to the 24 returners, senior Caitlin Hayes and sophomore Lauren Kate Carter made the GSC Preseason All-Conference Team. Sophomore transfer Scarlett Hodges and freshman Holly Pascoe made the GSC list of Top Newcomers as well.
“We’ve been focusing very much [in the preseason] on precision in our formation and the structure of it,” Rodgers said. “Our formation we switched up a little bit this year and we’re doing well with it. It’s been an adjustment but we’re hoping to see some breakthroughs in these upcoming games.”
And some breakthroughs will need to happen rather quickly. The Lady Choctaws opened up regular season play this past weekend in Cleveland, TN. They open up conference play on Friday afternoon at home against West Alabama, who came in just behind MC at fifth in the preseason poll.
The Lady Choctaws will host UAH two days after their game against West Alabama. Following the two-game homestand, MC will hit the road for four straight games, two of which will be against Lee and West Florida. There’s a lot of talented opponents in a short period of time, but Rodgers and the Lady Choctaw team aren’t too worried about it.
“We’re doing well working together,” Rodgers said.
The Lady Choctaws will play each member of the GSC once this season, ending the year with a three-game homestand against Montevallo and Auburn-Montgomery (who are new to the conference) as well as rival Delta State.
It is looking to be a good year for MC women’s soccer, and there is reason to believe that a GSC championship could be waiting at the end of the ride.
“Oh yeah,” Rodgers said about MC having a shot at the championship. “That’s our goal. We’ll see as the season unfolds if that goal looks more obtainable than how we see it right now. That’s our goal and it’s looking like we’re going to have a good shot at it, so that’s very exciting.”
So even though there may not be new bleachers out at Robert P. Longabaugh Field just yet, make sure to go out there and support your Lady Choctaws this season. Chances are they will make it worth your while. Not bad for a team starting their second year in the conference.