July 20, 2009
The Mississippi State women''s soccer team''s recruiting success will be on display this week in Massachusetts.
Two of MSU''s 11-player freshman class -- Alex Kytan and Jasmine Simmons -- will play for their respective club teams at the United States Youth Soccer Nationals in Lancaster, Mass.
The Nationals begin Tuesday and conclude Sunday. They bring together the champions from each of the nation''s regions to crown a champion.
"I am really excited," said Kytan, a 5-foot-4 forward from Puyallup, Wash. "Not many youth soccer players get to go to nationals. For most of us it is a once in a lifetime thing. It is the best way to leave (age-group soccer), I guess."
Kytan helped her Crossfire Premier 91 teammates win the Region IV title in the Under-17 age group. Her team defeated the Real So Cal Blue 3-0 in the regional title match to earn a trip to Massachusetts.
"Alex is very strong and has a great ability to take the ball out of the air under pressure," said Mississippi State soccer coach Neil Macdonald. "She plays well with her back to the goal and is the type of player who has ability to bring others into the game. We will use her as a target and as a platform to spring the attack. From what I have seen of her, she has good technical ability, can hold defenders off, and has a really quick five yards. She is a player who can give us another dimension (at forward)."
Kytan describes herself as a "hard-working player" who gives it her all in every tackle. She said her goal is to make sure she comes off the field knowing she didn''t "slack off." She selected MSU over Rutgers and American.
"I think MSU is an amazing school and it is an amazing opportunity," Kytan said. "I liked the relationship the girls had with the coaches."
Simmons, whose nickname is "Jazz," helped the ESC 91 Black team to its fourth straight Oklahoma state title. Her team won the Region III U-18 title.
This will be Simmons'' second appearance at Nationals. Her first trip came as a member of her U-14 team, which lost in the final 3-2. She said seven players from that team are on the current team, and their goal is to bring home a championship in what could be their final year together.
"Just the fact that everybody realizes it could be our last time together makes us want it more," said Simmons, a 5-6 midfielder who selected MSU over LSU, Baylor, Tulsa, and others. "Most of us girls have been playing together since we were 7 or 8 years old. I think this year everyone has showed a lot more heart in games at regionals than in some of the previous years."
Macdonald smiled when he thinks about the possibilities Simmons will bring to the lineup.
"Jasmine is very versatile and is a phenomenal athlete," Macdonald said. "She is a great reader of the game, and it is going to be exciting to see where she fits in when she gets here. ... She is a player I can envision in a number of different positions."
Kytan, Simmons, and the rest of the newcomers will try to help MSU improve on its 5-15 (0-11 in the Southeastern Conference) showing last season.
Players in this year''s recruiting class are from seven states in the U.S. and one -- goalkeeper Rachel Wannek -- from Ontario, Canada.
Another freshman, Monica Alvarado, a midfielder from Southlake, Texas, was named earlier this week to Mexico''s Women''s National Team. Prior to her promotion, Alvarado played on the U-17 and the U-20 squads. The U-17 team won the 2008 CONCACAF Championship.
Kytan and Simmons hope to work with Alvarado and their new classmates to raise expectations. Macdonald believes the players can make an immediate impact and provide depth. Earlier this year, the sixth-year coach expressed high hopes for the incoming class of freshmen." He echoed that sentiment earlier this week.
"On paper it looks like the best class we have ever brought in," Macdonald said. "We have made a concerted effort to throw the net out wider -- not just in the Southeast but nationally -- to try to bring in the best we can. It is exciting to bring in the type of players that have the pedigree that they have."
Talented players like Simmons and Kytan should give Macdonald plenty of reason to be optimistic entering another season.
"It''s wonderful for the program. I guess it shows some progression that we''re bringing in top-level kids," Macdonald said. "They both play at very high levels. They''re competing with and playing against the very best, so it is exciting for the program and the individuals to get that kind of exposure."
MSU opens its season at 1 p.m. Aug. 23 against Mississippi Valley State in Starkville.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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