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The Ole Miss Rebels are back in the biggest tournament of the year and will host Murray State this Friday night (7:30 p.m.) inside the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium, marking the second time in school history the University of Mississippi will host an NCAA Tournament Soccer game.
The entire team, along with friends and family members of some of the players, was in attendance with head coach Matthew Mott at Rafters Bar and Grill in Oxford Monday, waiting to see Ole Miss’ name run across the screen into one of the 64 slots–and it appeared less than three minutes into the selection show. Then, the cheers, hand claps, and congratulation speeches began.
But Mott knows there’s still work left to do, in such a short period of time.
“We were the 12th-ranked team in the country not too long ago, and I said that to the team, and we are still that team if we play at our best; that’s the level we are at,” Mott said.
We have to come out and practice and get ourselves ready and play Ole Miss Soccer. That’s got to be there. That’s our goal and if we do that, we are going to be a dangerous team to knock out.
Matt Mott, Ole Miss Soccer Coach
Winning games in such a tough league is one main reason Ole Miss (13-5-2, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) is now preparing for its first NCAA Tournament game since 2013.
This season, the Rebels faced six top 25 opponents and went 3-2-1 in those games. Ole Miss defeated No. 10 South Carolina and No. 10 Auburn in back-to-back games at home, then defeated No. 19 Texas A&M on the road in its final road game of the year before coming back home to host Vanderbilt, losing that one, 1-0.
Another reason for the Rebels success comes down to the exceptional performances of freshman CeCe Kizer and junior Addie Forbus. Kizer led the team in goals (14) and was named the SEC’s freshman of the year and earned First Team All-SEC honors. Forbus was second on the team in goals (11) and was awarded All-SEC First Team accolades as well.
Senior defender Jessica Hiskey claimed a spot on the All-SEC Second Team and has been another key player throughout the season.
The team has yet to watch film on the Racers, who defeated Southeast Missouri 1-0 to win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship to earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2009. Murray State is familiar with the SEC, going 1-1 against Mississippi State (W 2-1) and Tennessee (L 0-3).
The Ole Miss team is determined to stay focused and not be distracted by the excitement surrounding the game.
“I think the focus needs to be on our game and how we play and how we want to approach the game,” Forbus said. “I think a team can run into some trouble when you put too much focus on the external environment to the things you can’t control, such as the other team or the atmosphere.”
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)