August 25, 2014 11:12:21 AM
STARKVILLE -- Katy Couperus knows it's impossible to make herself invisible in the penalty area.
At 5-foot-8, the Cincinnati midfielder typically is easy to spot jockeying for position in the 18-yard box when a teammate is setting up to take a corner kick.
But the sophomore has found ways to drift in and out of traffic and avoid defenders so she can get a clear look at oncoming service.
Couperus showed how effective she can be at disappearing and then appearing Sunday by working into open space and heading in a corner kick by Jae Atkinson in the second half to give Cincinnati a 1-0 victory against Mississippi State before a crowd of 432 at the MSU Soccer Stadium.
"We were just looking for a long ball into the box because we had numbers in there and a lot of height," Couperus said. "We were trying to get a head on it. I can tell right as she strikes it, I can tell if it is really swinging in or if it is more a lofted ball. I look from there to see if it swings at all in the air. It was just about perfect, right about on the back post. It was easy for me to handle."
The victory helped American Athletic Conference member Cincinnati get off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2010. Cincinnati, which defeated Samford 2-1 in overtime on Friday night, was picked sixth behind Central Florida, Connecticut, Memphis, South Florida, and Southern Methodist in the AAC preseason coaches poll.
Later in the second half, Couperus showed another method to try to escape defenders. She started at the top of the box and then drifted toward the goal line. Amidst all of the players jostling for position, Couperus went unchecked and would have had open space if the service had found her. Still, she said she knows Atkinson can be deadly with her placement, especially when her left-footed teammate has an in-swinger like she did on the corner kick that set up the game-winner.
"I look for different options and then don't stand where I am going to go," Couperus said. "I variate (my moves) and see where I end up, and, hopefully, it is somewhere near the ball.
"(Jae) wants to place mostly to our taller players, but I usually end up around the ball, too. She is very consistent with her corner kicks, so I kind of know where to be."
Couperus said she had about three yards around her all of the time she was in the box. She said a defender in front of her misjudged the ball, which allowed the ball to end up on her head. The only thing she had to do then was not to think too much about what she had to do.
"I had to let the ball do the work," said Couperus, who was named to the AAC All-Rookie Team last season after scoring six goals and 15 points. "I just placed it."
Couperus said coach Neil Stafford doesn't have set plays off corner kicks, but she said the Bearcats try to work around defenders and try to throw them of so they can create an opportunity.
Stafford, who is in his second season as coach, said good delivery is the most important thing on any corner kick. He said all of the movement in the box doesn't mean a thing if the ball goes sailing out of bounds.
"It is about being hungry, getting on the end of it, and winning your one-vs.-one battles in the box," Stafford said. "I thought we did an OK job of that at times. Full credit to Jae for a good delivery, and Coup had a fantastic finish."
MSU (0-2) rebounded from a 5-1 loss to Iowa State on Friday night and was only outshot 11-10. Freshman Mallory Eubanks had three of the Bulldogs' five shots on goal. MSU, which played without freshman Morgan Ferrara, had its best scoring chances come from outside the box. The Bulldogs tried to work the ball into senior Shannen Jainudeen, but the Bearcats did a good job pressuring her and preventing her from possessing the ball and distributing it. Freshman forward Hannah Smith had MSU's other two shots on goal.
"They played hard," MSU coach Aaron Gordon said. "We came back and battled. I thought we had some good parts of the game in the first half. (Goalkeeper) Rhylee (DeCrane) didn't have to do a whole lot. On the corner, the girls went up on the back side and jumped over our kid, so I don't know what we would have done about it. It was a good finish on their part."
MSU, which was picked 14th in the Southeastern Conference preseason poll, went with eight substitutes less than 48 hours after playing its opener against Iowa State. Gordon said the match came down to geography and the Bearcats did a good job pinning his team in so they couldn't capitalize on matchups to win first balls.
MSU goalkeeper Rhylee DeCrane made four saves, including one early in the first half and another midway through the first 45 minutes to keep the game scoreless.
The only shot DeCrane couldn't do anything about was Couperus' header, which Stafford said well executed because Couperus let her instincts take over.
"I think that is what makes Coup so special, she is one of our few players that really goes by instinct," Stafford said. "When she is doing that, you just kind of let players like Coup go and let them express themselves."
n Ole Miss 1, Iowa State 0: At Oxford, Senior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick posted a shutout and scored her first career goal Sunday to help the Rebels beat the Cyclones and complete an undefeated first weekend.
McCormick struck the game-winning goal for the Rebels (1-0-1, 0-0-1 Southeastern Conference) in the 24th minute on a penalty kick after junior midfielder Jennifer Miller was taken down in the box. Miller got the ball on a breakaway before the foul set up the kick for the senior keeper.
"It was a good start to our season," Ole Miss coach Matt Mott said. "Anytime you have an undefeated weekend it's a good one. The kids gutted it out today and came back after an intense match on Friday night. We have to continue to get better, but I'm totally happy with the total effort and result of the weekend.
"The team really battled for 200 minutes this weekend. We're happy with how the freshmen are progressing. Kelly came through and strikes the ball well on penalty kicks in practice, so it popped right into my head for her to take it today. To get a shutout win and score the game-winning goal in a weekend is really nice for her."
n Memphis 2, Alabama 1: At Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Forward Valerie Sanderson scored a pair of second-half goals to help the Tigers sneak past the Crimson Tide on Sunday night at the Alabama Soccer Complex.
"Memphis is a solid, veteran team," Alabama coach Todd Bramble said. "It was a big challenge, and I was pleased with a lot of things I saw from my team tonight. I don't think we surrendered too many goal-scoring chances. Unfortunately, they took full advantage of the chances they had. We couldn't find a tying goal in the end, despite our team putting forth a great effort tonight."
The game was the first of the season for the Tigers, while the Crimson Tide played Friday night against Kennesaw State. Memphis needed the fresh legs as it played down a man for a majority of the match due to a red card given to Marissa Duguay at the 15-minute, 32-second mark.
Duguay's foul came against freshman Lacey Clarida, who had broken free of the defense and was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Duguay brought Clarida down with a slide tackle that was immediately whistled, giving Alabama a penalty kick. Senior midfielder Merel van Dongen converted the penalty kick to give Alabama a 1-0 lead.
Memphis swung momentum a little more than three minutes into the second half when Sanderson scored on a header off a corner kick. Sanderson, who recently returned from leading Canada at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, added the game-winner off another header at the 70:51 mark.
Alabama's best chance to tie the match came when redshirt freshman Hailey Brohaugh ripped a shot from 25 yards that ricocheted off the crossbar and was cleared away. Clarida also had a solid scoring opportunity in the 83rd minute, but a defender blocked the shot from going in the back of the net.
"Memphis getting the tying goal is what changed the game," Bramble said. "I don't think there was anything going on the field that was that dramatically different. That goal from the corner kick swung momentum in the game in their favor. It was a wide open affair after that."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.