Mississippi State freshman Zakirah McGillivary celebrates after scoring a goal in the eighth minute against LSU on Oct. 25 in Starkville. McGillivary led the Bulldogs with 17 points and earned Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team honors. She matched the Bulldogs’ single-season record for game-winning goals with five, while her eight goals are the second-most any freshman has recorded in Starkville. Photo by: Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
November 4, 2018 12:55:56 AM
Tom Anagnost hopes 2018 is the year the West solidifies its standing in the Southeastern Conference.
If that's the case, the Mississippi State women's soccer team will make history Monday when the NCAA tournament selection committee announces the 64-team field for the annual showcase.
MSU (9-6-2, 2-6-2 SEC) will hold a watch party for the NCAA tournament selection show in its clubhouse. The Bulldogs hope to celebrate the program's first NCAA tournament bid after waiting more than a week following its last match. That result, a 2-1 loss to LSU in Starkville on Oct. 25, denied MSU a chance to qualify for the 10-team SEC tournament for the first time since 2004.
Usually, not making the SEC tournament would have meant the end to the Bulldogs' season. This year, though, MSU still has a chance to make history thanks to its impressive resume and the fact that Florida and Missouri, which both advanced to the league tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama, are under .500 and aren't eligible for postseason play.
As a result, MSU, which is No. 19 in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) remains on the bubble to make the sport's "Big Dance." Earlier this season, MSU reached its highest ranking in program history when it debuted at No. 2. Prior to the start of the SEC tournament, AllWhiteKit.com, a website that covers Division I women's soccer, had MSU in the NCAA tournament as one of nine from the SEC in the field. The website also had 10 teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and six from the Big 12 Conference and the Pacific-12 Conference. Those numbers suggest that MSU's RPI and strength of schedule -- it played the nation's toughest slate -- will help it make history.
But sports fans know never to trust the NCAA.
That is what has made the last 10 days so agonizing for MSU. The Bulldogs had so many chances against the Tigers in their regular-season finale. Unfortunately, like it has happened so many times this season, MSU couldn't convert enough scoring chances to earn the biggest reward for its hard work. Wins against Memphis (RPI No. 16) and South Carolina (RPI No. 18) were the signature moments in a season that came so close to producing so many more against a schedule that featured an opponents' winning percentage of .676. The Bulldogs faced a conference slate with an average opponents' RPI of 28.9, the highest in the SEC. MSU's opponents' strength of schedule rated fifth in the country.
The SEC also boasts the highest average RPI of any conference (48.9) along with six teams in the top 25.
Today, Arkansas and LSU will face off for the SEC tournament title. It is the second-straight season two teams from the SEC West -- last season it was Texas A&M and Arkansas -- have advanced to the tournament's final game. The Razorbacks, who are making their third-straight appearance in the league title match, and the Tigers are looking for their first league championship. That could serve as a good omen for MSU, which tied Arkansas in the regular season.
For years, programs from traditional Eastern Division schools dominated SEC women's soccer. From the inaugural year of the SEC tournament in 1993 to 2003, only six teams from SEC West schools advanced to the title game of the league's championship game. The growth of women's soccer and the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC helped the league grow to 14 teams. Since 2011, the SEC West (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, MSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M) has put at least one team in the SEC tournament title match each year.
On Monday, MSU hopes to see its name as one of nine from the SEC that will extend its season into the second weekend of November. That would be a fitting reward for a program that has made significant strides in two seasons to become relevant in the SEC and on the national scene.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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