October 5, 2009 9:08:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Splishing, splashing, and sploshing aren''t typical ingredients of a soccer match.
But Rachel Wannek has experienced enough of those moments to feel right at home playing in inclement weather.
The freshman showed Sunday just how comfortable she is in bad weather and on soggy fields when she scored on a 25-yard free kick in the second half to help the Mississippi State women''s soccer team earn a 1-1 overtime tie against No. 8 South Carolina at the MSU Soccer Field.
The tie capped one of the best weekends in MSU history. The Lady Bulldogs (8-2-2, 0-2-2 Southeastern Conference) tied No. 7 Florida 1-1 in overtime on Friday.
The results marked the first time in the program''s 15-year history it escaped a weekend against SEC Eastern Division teams without at least one loss.
"I am delighted. If you look at the weather conditions, it is one of those days when you have to roll your sleeves up and work extremely hard and play direct," MSU coach Neil Macdonald said. "We did well at it. I thought the result was a fair result over the course of the game."
The playing conditions for Friday''s match were a little more favorable than Sunday, when a steady rain turned a still damp field into a muddy mess. The field had standing patches of water that stopped passes and blotches of torn up turf in the midfield area that made navigating all but impossible.
That didn''t stop Wannek.
Her right-footed free kick appeared to deflect off a body in the defensive wall 10 yards away and sailed into the upper left corner to tie the match.
"We just gained our confidence back and the belief back that we could actually win this," Wannek said. "We all got pumped up and were cheering each other on."
The forward from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, said she grew accustomed to playing in bad weather in her home country. Her white uniform Sunday looked like it, too, as it quickly absorbed every challenge and fall on the turf and turned into a dingy shade of brown.
Wannek said the soggy socks, jersey, and shorts didn''t affect her when she stepped up to take the direct kick that tied the match.
"I absolutely love playing in this weather," Wannek said. "I was so confident and up into the game that I just got the ball and said, ''I got this.'' When someone steps up and has that confidence you let them take it."
Wannek''s fourth goal of the season rewarded MSU for a flurry of strong play that saw it raise its intensity in hopes of gaining another positive result against a ranked team.
"We all noticed the change. We were stepping to the ball a little bit harder and getting down and dirty, making challenges for the first and second ball. Everything we were winning," Macdonald said. "The momentum of the game switched in our favor after they scored for the next 20 or 30 minutes."
Brooke Jacobs'' goal in the 46th minute gave South Carolina a 1-0 lead, but MSU''s pressure helped it hold a 7-5 edge in shots in the second half.
The past two ties were especially satisfying after MSU lost to Alabama 1-0 on Tuesday in a rescheduled match at the MSU Soccer Field.
South Carolina, which edged Ole Misss 1-0 on Friday in Oxford, held a 14-12 edge in shots. Goalkeeper Mollie Patton made five saves, as did MSU goalkeeper Taryn Holland.
"It was a good result given the circumstances," South Carolina coach Shelley Smith said. "The field conditions worsened throughout the game, which didn''t play into our strengths as a team, especially in the second half and into overtime. The field got to a point where you couldn''t play (a regular game of soccer). We were happy coming away without a loss. The effort the team put forth on the field was very good. They really battled for each other. It''s a victory to come out without any injuries. Hopefully we won''t face these conditions again this season, but if we do we''ll have this experience to draw upon."
South Carolina nearly won the match in regulation. Forward Kayla Grimsley moved past a defender into the box on the right side and crossed the ball into the middle, but Holland made a diving save to her right to stop Sam Diaz-Matosas'' shot.
MSU will have to build on the momentum on the road. The Lady Bulldogs will kick off a five-game string of away games at 6 p.m. Friday at Tennessee.
MSU will take on Kentucky at 1 p.m. Oct. 25 in its home finale. It will close the regular season at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Ole Miss.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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