October 1, 2012 11:09:27 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Many national pundits spent the summer talking about the impact the addition of Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri would make on Southeastern Conference football.
Lost in the shuffle was the immediate boost both athletic programs would give the conference in women's soccer.
No. 6 Texas A&M scored two goals in the first 11 minutes and held on for a 2-0 win against Mississippi State University in a driving rain storm Sunday at the MSU Soccer Field.
It was the first regular-season competition in any sport between MSU and Texas A&M as conference rivals.
"The SEC has always been a difficult league with high-quality teams," MSU coach Neil Macdonald said. "Texas A&M and Missouri will add to that. They both have great programs. They are well-coached, well-drilled, and they will add so much to the league.
"They will make it an even stronger league. Southeastern Conference soccer will be an even more amazing product that it already is."
Texas A&M improved to 11-1-1 and 5-0-1 in the league -- good for first place in the Western Division. Missouri is 10-2 and 5-1 in the league -- good for first place in the Eastern Division. Missouri lost its first league match Sunday with a 4-0 setback at the University of Tennessee.
In the latest, National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings, Texas A&M was the highest-rated SEC team, while Missouri was No. 11. Florida was the only SEC team ranked, at No. 24.
On Sunday, the Aggies backed their national ranking by posting their ninth shutout. The victory came on a field that was battered for several hours of rain before the match and two more hours of it during the match. The MSU Climatology Lab estimated just under two inches of rain fell in the Starkville area between midnight Sunday morning and the completion of the regionally televised match.
"We really thought that would be a great equalizer for us," MSU junior defender Morganne Grimes said. "Texas A&M has such great speed on offense. They move the ball well, so we knew the rain would be something that would help us.
"I have never played in anything quite like this. It is one thing to play with some rain. It is another thing to just get pelted by it the entire match."
Grimes played all 90 minutes and helped spearhead another strong defensive effort by the Bulldogs (7-5-1, 0-5-1 SEC). The Aggies were credited with 26 shots, including nine on goal.
The Bulldogs had to shuffle some things due to a couple of minor injuries in the match and the rain. For a stretch of the second half, the MSU back line included three freshmen.
"We have a large freshman class and they have all been contributing," Macdonald said. "You look at some players, like (freshman defender) Shelby Jordan, she has just been outstanding. (Freshman) Gracie Irby is doing a tremendous job for us in the box. We are playing a lot of young players, but they are growing up fast. Playing SEC soccer will do that for you."
Still, MSU is searching for consistency on offense. The loss came on the heels of a 1-0 home loss to LSU on Friday night. MSU has gone nearly 295 minutes without scoring.
Against Texas A&M, the Bulldogs managed 15 shots, including five on goal. MSU's two best scoring chances came in the first couple of minutes.
"An early goal can be the difference in the match," Grimes said. "If you get that first score, it changes all of the momentum. That is what happened in this match. Texas A&M scored first and we had an uphill climb from there. They hit us quickly, but I thought we regrouped and played really well the rest of the way."
Texas A&M junior midfielder Jayne Eadie scored her first career goal off a MSU deflection slightly more than four minutes in. On the Aggies' third offensive attack, Shea Groom scored her second goal of the season from about 15 feet at the 11-minute mark.
As the playing conditions deteriorated, moving the ball in any direction became the ultimate challenge. A halftime downpour made second-half ball movement tricky on both ends.
"We had a TV timeout there about 20 minutes into the match," Macdonald said. "We challenged the players and talked about what we had to do to stay in the match. After a rough start, we really settled down and played great soccer. I was disappointed at how we started the match. We did not compete early. After that, we played even soccer with an outstanding team."
Senior goalkeeper Skylar Rosson had six saves. Rosson is now second all-time at MSU with 295 career saves.
"Skylar is a great young lady," Macdonald said. "She is a true competitor. She had another great match today. She had a couple of huge saves which kept us in the game. She is a fantastic all-around player."
MSU now faces a four-match road swing with trips to Auburn University, the University of Missouri, the University of Alabama, and the University of Florida.
"We are not discouraged at all," Grimes said. "I think we have worked harder the last two weeks than we have at any time this season. We have a lot of young players, but they are learning what SEC soccer is all about. We played a competitive match with one of the nation's best teams today. We know how close we are. That is why we are going to keep working."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter