Lady Choctaws Reach Highest Ranking in Program History/by Sydney Cannette
The Lady Choctaw soccer team has been off to a booming start this season. The Lady Choctaws finished the 2018 season with a record of 16-4 and a conference record of 12-1. The team currently stands with a record of 6-1 this season and a conference record of 4-0.
The Lady Choctaws recently reached a huge milestone for the program: they are currently ranked ninth in the nation which is the highest the team has ever been ranked in the program’s history. The team is also ranked first in the south region. The Lady Choctaws opened up conference play with a quartet of impressive wins. They beat West Alabama 7-0, Alabama-Huntsville 8-1, fifth-ranked Lee University 3-1 and Shorter 9-1.
A large part of the Choctaws’ success this year has been heavy improvements on the offensive side of the ball. In 2018, the Lady Choctaws only scored 37 goals throughout 20 games; however, they have already scored 35 goals over a span of only seven games this season; giving them an average of five goals per game. Coach Longabaugh said about his team’s offensive success, “It’s a combination of things, we ran the same formation last year, it’s the new players, young players like Erin Hederman, Kaylee Foster, Sydney Hughes, and then you have got a mixture of the older players like Jess Davenport, Katie Taylor, and Lindsey Stephenson. So you’ve got plenty of players that are locked in, and they are just working harder at practice and focused a little bit more this year on scoring goals. It’s a combination of the girls working their tails off everyday and in games and the addition of players we have added, and we are getting more production out of the midfield via Katie Taylor and just the fact that we are more focused on that.”
It is no secret that Katie Taylor, a senior midfielder from Tupelo, Miss., has been a beast this year on the pitch. She was named Gulf South Conference Player of the Week for two consecutive weeks already this season. Taylor said about her awards, “I have never gotten anything like that ever in my soccer career, so it was really cool. Obviously that stuff is so great, and you are lying if you say that is not cool, but I think it does overlook our whole team. Because yeah, you can put up the goals, but it was a whole team effort to get me in front of the goal and to get the ball up there. It was a huge honor, and it was really cool.” Taylor has already scored nine goals this season.
On top of having an explosive offense, the Lady Choctaws also have a rock solid defense. Senior goalkeeper Gabby Kayser from Troy, Ill., has also had a phenomenal start to the season with a 61% save percentage. Kayser has only given up seven goals through seven games; yet she has only had to make eleven saves due to how strong the Lady Choctaw defense is this year. Kayser credited her own success to the team, saying, “We have a strong front line this year that just penetrates the other team and scares them a little bit, but we also have a really strong defense this year just like we did last year. We work really hard defensively being together as a unit and communicating very well.”
There have been some young players who have made an impact on both sides of the ball. Coach Longabaugh stated, “We are getting scoring from a variety of players. I would bet we have close to ten goals from the freshman class alone out of those 35 goals. We have had some good combination of that, but it’s a mindset, and the girls have really bought into it. I’ll tell you, the senior class is just really driving this team.” Freshman Erin Hederman from Jackson, Miss., follows behind Katie Taylor on the stats sheet with five goals, and behind her are senior Jess Davenport, freshman Kaylee Foster, and freshman Avery Hederman who all have three goals each.
Coach Longabaugh, Taylor, and Kayser all agreed on what their highlight of the season so far is: beating nationally ranked Lee University on the road. Taylor added, “Oh, beating Lee at their place. The last time we were there, they ended our season last year, so it was incredible to beat them there.”