November 4, 2009 8:12:00 AM
For the second year in a row, the Mississippi College women''s soccer team has earned a berth in the American Southwest Conference tournament.
Sophomore Elizabeth Sanford has played a key role in helping the Lady Choctaws accomplish that feat.
Sanford, a 2008 graduate of Starkville High School, has contributed at midfielder and helped Mississippi College make it to the tournament at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
"She''s started just about every game (16 of 18 games) this season and has made a big contribution in the middle," Mississippi College coach Darryl Longabaugh said. "She''s doing real well. She''s been instrumental in giving us an extra player in the middle and controlling the central midfield area and working very well with her teammates."
Mississippi College (11-5-2, 9-2-2 ASC) will play the University of Texas at Dallas at 2 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the tournament.
Sanford has attempted 24 shots on goal, but plays on the backside and makes her contribution more as a defensive midfielder.
She began the season as an outside midfielder, but was moved to the inside the fifth game of the season against the University of Texas at Tyler on Sept. 17.
"I''d gotten comfortable playing outside mid and then (Longabaugh) saw I was needed in the center," Sanford said. "At first I was kind of hesitant, but I knew I could do it. I believed in myself that I could from past experiences. It took a while to get used to it, especially because it was a new formation, but along with teamwork it became easier because my teammates were there for me and we were able to work together."
Sanford played in the middle as a freshman at Mississippi College, and she also played different positions at Starkville High and in club soccer, so it hasn''t been much of adjustment.
She has played 13 games in the middle this season to help her get accustomed to Mississippi College''s 4-5-1 formation.
Sanford hasn''t score a goal this season, but couldn''t think of a better time to score than in the conference tournament.
"That would be awesome," she said. "That''s our main goal (to score). Just as long as somebody scores I''m happy, but if it''s me I''m going to be thrilled."
Sanford has had shots hit the post this season, and she believes it''s a matter of time before she puts one in the back of the net.
Longabaugh said Sanford''s attitude on the field contributes as much to the team''s success as her defensive play.
"She will do whatever you ask of her to do and she will do it with everything she has," Longabaugh said. "I think that has meant the most to us. You can always count on her to do the job you ask her to do."
Longabaugh has seen Sanford mature as a player since joining the Mississippi College soccer program.
"She''s become a better player since I saw her in high school and club soccer," Longabaugh said. "Her touch on the ball is better. Her tactics in the game are better. Her passing is more accurate. The tactics we can help her with, but she worked hard over the summer to become a better player."