September 11, 2009 8:52:00 AM
Neil Macdonald knows there aren''t any guarantees in soccer.
But Macdonald has seen plenty of positives and improvement in the first two weekends of the season to believe his Mississippi State women''s soccer team can maintain its success.
The Lady Bulldogs (4-0) will try to continue their winning streak at 7 tonight when they play host to Troy University in their home opener at the MSU Soccer Field
MSU will close the weekend with a 1 p.m. match Sunday against East Tennessee State.
A victory tonight would help the Lady Bulldogs record the best start in the program''s history. The 1997 team won its first four matches en route to an 11-8-1 finish.
MSU has reached double-digit victories only once (2001) since that season, but Macdonald feels this season''s team has plenty of potential to help change that.
"The thing I am most excited about is the girls are very focused and they keep getting better," Macdonald said. "This group concentrates in practice and is a lot of fun to work with."
MSU is coming off a 1-0 victory against South Alabama and a 2-1 victory against Northwestern State 2-1 last weekend.
Freshmen Monica Alvarado and Rachel Wannek and junior Kat Walsh lead the Lady Bulldogs. Alvarado earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after earning game-winning assists in the victories last weekend. She also has two goals this season and leads the team with six points.
"She is really off to a good start," Macdonald said of Alvarado, who is a member of the Mexican Women''s National Team. "She just really anchors the midfield and is a fierce competitor. She distributes the ball well and gets into forward positions, and is creative in the final third."
Wannek, who is from Woodstock, Ontario, has five points, while Walsh, a transfer from LSU, scored against South Alabama and had the Lady Bulldogs'' first goal against Northwestern State, the first surrendered by the Lady Demons this season.
Macdonald said the 11 freshmen have done a great job of "pushing the envelope" and creating a lot of competition for playing time.
He said senior Hannah Tyler and junior Leanna Baldner have provided solid leadership at center back and have really driven practices and helped keep the team playing at a high tempo.
Macdonald was especially pleased with his team''s performance last weekend. He said the Lady Bulldogs overcame "horrendous" conditions and nearly an inch of water on the field to beat South Alabama.
Less than 48 hours later, Macdonald said the team played through "heavy legs" and beat a tough Northwestern State team.
While acknowledging the Bulldogs could have scored a few more goals, Macdonald said the team "dug deep" and showed the tenacity it will have to have when it begins the Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule.
"Based on the fact that we''re so young and we were able to push through that was pleasing to see," Macdonald said. "We did the things we needed to: We challenged well, we were organized, and we defended well when we needed to. It was good to see."
Macdonald also has been pleased with how his team has adopted a more attacking mind-set. He said the Lady Bulldogs continue to work on their transition from offense to defense, which he said is a crucial element to staying organized.
As satisfying as the victories have been, though, Macdonald knows the Lady Bulldogs will face a higher level of competition in the SEC.
Still, a lot of what Macdonald has seen has impressed him, along with the play of freshman Jasmine Simmons and junior defender Danielle Kite, and gives him confidence the Lady Bulldogs can maintain their level of play.
"The mind-set is very positive now," Macdonald said. "Like I said, they''re getting better all of the time and thinking their way through things and solving problems. We''re going to have to continue that learning curve. As long as we do we should be ready for the challenges that lie ahead."
Admission to all MSU home soccer matches is free, and fans are encouraged to wear Maroon on Friday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.