August 7, 2014 11:26:10 AM
STARKVILLE -- Aaron Gordon doesn't want any of his Mississippi State women's soccer players to underestimate the importance of fitness.
That's why Gordon was especially proud of the number of players who passed the team's initial fitness test Wednesday on the squad's first day of practice. That test served as a warmup for the Bulldogs' first "real" practice of the season that night, one Gordon hopes will help set the tone for an improved 2014 season.
"It was 6 a.m. (in the Palmeiro Center) and we ran our (fitness) test and we had some players who were exempt because they have had a really good summer," Gordon said. "It went well. I think we are further along than where the team and the program have been in the past, (and) certainly from last year with my experience. By running the (fitness) test and training for about 45 minutes, I think we got off to a good start."
Gordon needed his players to come to training camp in great shape because Division I soccer teams don't have the luxury of a long buildup to the season. MSU will play Memphis in an exhibition match at 10 a.m. Wednesday. It will close the preseason at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, with a match against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It will open the season against Iowa State on Aug. 22 in Starkville.
MSU is coming off a 3-15 season in which it went 0-11 in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs lost their top two scorers -- Elisabeth Sullivan and Annebel ten Broeke -- from last season. Sullivan, the program's all-time leading scorer, and ten Broeke accounted for 19 of the team's 23 goals and 47 of its 71 points. MSU also will have to replace senior goalkeeper CJ Winship, who started 15 of 16 games she appeared in last season.
Gordon hopes the emergence of freshman Morgan Ferrara, an early enrollee who participated with the team in the spring, and senior Shannen Jainudeen, who has moved to forward, will provide a one-two scoring punch that will help make up for the loss of Sullivan. He also is counting on players like sophomore midfielder Jamila Coner to benefit from a strong finish to last season and what he called a "fresh start" this year.
The addition of a 19-player freshman class also will serve to create depth and competition for playing time, Gordon said.
"I think with our entire team being here for summer two, they have been playing pickup soccer together, they have been excited, they have been out here," Gordon said. "You can play pickup soccer and get a lot out of it, but it is never the same as the first training session. We play Memphis in seven days, so we really have to get into preparing to play immediately. Tonight will reflect a little bit of that in some things we are going to ask of our players. That is kind of what we are going to do the next three or four days and then get ready to play Memphis.
"This year, we chose to play two exhibition games because we have 19 new players and we really have a brand new team. Playing Memphis and Alabama, who we don't play in the SEC season, will allow us to prepare probably in a way we couldn't prepare last year. I think there is an eagerness and an enthusiasm that is really genuine, which is what happens when you have a bunch of new players."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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