Texas vs. USC in 2005, Michigan vs. Ohio State in 2006 and LSU vs. Alabama in 2011: these are all recent occurrences in College Football of matchups between the #1 and #2 ranked teams and were all called “game of the century.”
When Mississippi College and West Florida met in women’s soccer on Thursday, Oct. 25 at Longabaugh Field, it was a battle of two juggernauts who were ranked first and second in the conference and were both nationally ranked. It was a battle of two teams with double digit game winning streaks, and it would decide who would win the GSC regular season title and the #1 overall seed in the GSC tournament. The game easily could have been called “Match of the Century,” and it lived up to the hype.
West Florida came into the game with a record of 15-0 (11-0 in conference) and were ranked #2 in the nation according to the United Soccer Coaches poll. The Lady Choctaws came in at 13-1 (also 11-0 in conference) and were riding a program record 12 game-winning streak, while being ranked #18 in the nation. Both teams had to endure sloppy conditions due to rain before and during the game. MC came out a little slow in the first half, and West Florida went up 1-0 on a 37th minute goal off a corner kick and would take the one goal lead into the break. MC came out energetic in the second half and controlled the pace of play the majority of the half. Coach Daryl Longabaugh said he feels that in the second half, his team “came out really strong with determination.”
“We started playing the brand of soccer that we are capable of and that we are used to, and even went a step ahead of what we have normally done,” said Longabaugh. The Lady Choctaws had numerous chances in the box during the second half but were unable to put one in the back of the net, missing by mere inches several times.
Sophomore Lindsey Stephenson said that she feels that “we had a lot of chances that we could have scored, but we just did not put them away today.” Even though MC controlled the majority of the 2nd half, they fell just agonizingly short, losing 1-0.
Even though the Lady Choctaws fell just short, Coach Longabaugh still liked the team’s relentlessness all the way to the end. “The kids never quit; they never backed down. That’s always positive when you are going against the #2 team in the nation.” Stephenson also spoke to how the team did not give up, even trailing a West Florida team that has only allowed eight goals all season.
Up next for the Lady Choctaws will be Senior Day on Saturday, Oct. 27 against 1-13-1, Spring Hill. MC will honor eight seniors. The seniors are Goalkeeper Andrea McDonald, defenders Gaylynn Cooper, Lauren Dodge and Cara Benedict, midfielders Samantha Carson, Peace Gill and Julie Reid, and then forward Lauren Smith.
Longabaugh said, “I’m not looking forward to Saturday because it’s Senior Day, and I don’t want to say goodbye to some of my seniors yet.” Stephenson said of the seniors, “I have gotten really close to each and every senior and knowing these are their last few games is heartbreaking, but I hope I can at least give everything I have for them on Saturday.”
After Senior Day, the Lady Choctaws will head into the GSC conference tournament, which will begin next week. MC will walk into the tournament as the #2 seed and will host the first tournament game on GSC “Super Tuesday” on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The Lady Choctaws will host either West Georgia, Christian Brothers, or Montevallo. If MC wins on Tuesday, they will head to Montgomery for the conference tournament semifinals on Friday. The tournament championship game will be on Sunday, Nov. 4.
The GSC tournament will feature several of the top teams in the country. Stephenson spoke to how challenging the tournament will be and said, “Every year, it’s always really tough, but we are hoping to come through and finally win it and give everything we have.”
After the conference tournament will be NCAA Division 2 regionals (if the Lady Choctaws advance). MC was ranked 3rd in the latest Regional rankings. Longabaugh and Stephenson both feel that the team can go deep into postseason play and potentially compete for a national title. Longabaugh pointed to how his team had the #2 team in the country in West Florida on the ropes in the 2nd half as proof that the Lady Choctaws can compete with any team in the nation. MC will have to rebound after a heartbreaking defeat, but the team has the confidence that they can rebound strong, even if it means playing West Florida again or any other highly ranked team in the country.