September 4, 2013 10:19:58 PM
STARKVILLE -- Consistency is the word for Aaron Gordon.
After four matches, Mississippi State University's first-year women's soccer head coach has seen enough positives that give him reason to be optimistic things are moving in the right direction. At the top of the list is the fact MSU has scored 10 goals, the second-highest total in the first four matches of a season dating back to 2005.
On the flip side, Gordon doesn't feel the Bulldogs have maintained their consistency for 90 minutes in all four of the matches. As a result, MSU (2-2) enters its next match at Southeastern Louisiana University at 4 p.m. Friday at .500. With non-conference matches remaining at the University of Southern Mississippi (1 p.m. Sunday) and at home against Furman University (7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 13), and Jackson State University (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 15) before the start of the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule, Gordon hopes to find that consistency on the road.
"We are a team that is just looking for some consistency," Gordon said. "We have had some really high highs. I don't think our lows have been too low. We have had low halves, but we usually have responded in the second half. Unfortunately, sometimes injuries and inexperience leads to low lows, but the silver lining is we always have seemed to respond."
The play of senior Elisabeth Sullivan and freshman Annebel ten Broeke has sparked the offense. Sullivan has five goals and 10 points. She became the program's all-time leading scorer with two goals in a 4-0 victory against Arkansas State University. Ten Broeke, who is from The Netherlands, has provided cohesion in the midfield and has partnered with Sullivan to form a productive tandem. She is second on the team in scoring with two goals and seven points.
Gordon also pointed to the solid play of senior goalkeeper C.J. Winship and freshman Meara Johnson. In fact, Gordon said Wednesday that if the rest of the Bulldogs were playing to the level of the goalkeepers, who are splitting time in matches, the team could be 4-0.
Winship, who was named a team co-captain Wednesday with classmate Morganne Grimes, has made 10 saves in 255 minutes. She had seven saves Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Florid Gulf Coast University in the Embassy Suites Classic. Her performance earned her a spot on the all-tournament team. Johnson has nine saves in 135 minutes She has allowed two of the team's six goals against.
"(Our goalkeepers) have played at a high level, making really good saves," Gordon said. "When you're making big saves, your team is in it all of the time."
If you go inside the numbers, MSU has a 41-29 edge in shots on goal. It also has had eight players start all four matches, which is a sign of stability, especially for a program with 10 freshmen. One of those freshmen, Tiffany Huddleston, of Starkville Academy, has logged 210 minutes, which is second to Darbi Filliben (236) for minutes played from players who haven't started all four matches.
"I think 2-2 right now is fair," Gordon said. "With a little luck, we could be 3-1, but that is soccer."
Gordon said he knew the newcomers to the program were going to have to play key roles. He said the players continue to learn their roles and the Bulldogs' style of play he hopes will help them be more competitive in the SEC. Last year, MSU scored 13 goals in its first four matches en route to a 7-0 start in non-conference play. It tied the University of South Carolina in its league opener and then lost its next seven SEC matches. It failed to qualify for the 10-team SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala. Gordon and his players have set that as a goal for this season.
First, though, comes the remainder of the non-conference season that Gordon hopes will help MSU build momentum for a stretch against some of the nation's top programs in conference. Eight SEC teams are ranked or also receiving votes in this week's NSCAA national poll.
"I think the quality of goals we have scored in terms of buildup or the pas that led up to it, or the series of passes, has been really good," Gordon said. "We just need more of it. We haven't seen enough of it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.