August 23, 2013 11:01:53 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
If Rafaelle Souza and Mandy McCalla is the starting point, Matthew Mott doesn't mind one bit talking about his high-scoring duo.
Mott will be happy to tell you that Souza, who is from Salvador, Brazil, and McCalla, who is from Fayetteville, Ga., both scored 13 goals and had seven assists to tie for the Southeastern Conference scoring title. He also will tell you that both players were named to the second-team All-SEC squad for their exploits.
But as much as Mott loves to talk about his seniors he wants you to be sure about one thing: The University of Mississippi women's soccer team is much more than two players. In fact, Ole Miss returns 16 letterwinners and nine starters from a team that won 13 games and was on the bubble for making the NCAA tournament. A squad of 10 newcomers adds to the optimism that Mott and the Rebels can take the next step this season.
"They all really put in the work to get better," said Mott, whose team will play host to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 tonight in the season opener for both teams. Ole Miss will play at 7 p.m. Sunday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to close its first weekend. "They came in super fit and really just took off at a higher level than they were at since I have been here."
Mott hopes players like sophomore Olivia Harrison and freshman Addie Forbus, of Amory, can provide consistent scoring threats to help take attention away from Souza and McCalla. He said Souza often was double-teamed last season, which forced other Rebels to have to read angles and learn how to best utilize the open space to break defenses down. Despite all of the defensive attention Souza and McCalla generated, Ole Miss still finished third in the SEC in goals with 45. Mott credits Souza and McCalla for being level-headed and knowing how to appreciate their value to the team.
"They understand what was done last year is last year and this is a new year and the targets are on their back a little more and we have to come out and play a little more."
If Ole Miss had done that in 2012, Mott feels the team could have made the NCAA tournament instead of watching the event from home.
"(Last year) was a really good step for our program, but we certainly have not hit our ceiling by any stretch," Mott said. "Knowing we were only a game or two away from making the NCAA tournament left a burn with everybody in the spring and into the summer. We were that close. There probably were three games we could have and maybe should have won. If we win one or two of those games we could have been in the NCAA tournament."
As much as missing the NCAA tournament was a painful way to end the 2012 season, Mott didn't hesitate to start talk about 2013 with one topic: the NCAA tournament. Even though the 14-team SEC likely will be even more competitive this season, Mott believes his team has a chance to climb into the middle of the conference and to make noise in the regular season, and to earn a bid to the NCAAs. But Mott also wants his players to focus on getting better every day and not letting the idea of the NCAA tournament cloud their focus.
(Getting to the NCAA tournament) is a goal for us," Mott said. "If we can get into the SEC tournament we have a good chance to be in the conversation for NCAAs. We know how close we were last yea, and it absolutely motivation to get into the NCAA tournament."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.