Members of the Mississippi State women’s soccer team celebrate Monday afternoon after learning the squad made history and earned a bid to the field of 64 teams for the NCAA tournament. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
November 7, 2018 10:14:18 AM
John Cohen has embraced the new age of social media.
In an era where coaches tweet out invitations for potential recruits to visit their campuses, administrators like John Cohen have taken an active role in promoting their schools. As Mississippi State's Director of Athletics, Cohen is a visible presence at the school's sporting events. He takes time to talk to fans and to cheer on the Bulldogs while keeping his eyes and ears tuned into ways to enhance the atmosphere at events.
There's no doubt Cohen will be at the MSU Soccer Field at 4 p.m. Friday when the MSU women's soccer team plays host to Lipscomb in the first round of the NCAA tournament. On Monday, MSU made history when it earned the program's first NCAA bid.
There have been many years of disappointment for a program that started in 1995. The Bulldogs last advanced to the Southeastern Conference tournament in 2004, but a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of No. 19 and the SEC's strongest schedule helped coach Tom Anagnost's team build a resume that earned it an opportunity to play host to the Atlantic Sun Conference champion Bison.
Cohen highlighted the accomplishment Monday when he tweeted, "In just his 2nd year with @HailStateSOC ... @TomAnagnost has Bulldogs hosting an NCAA tournament match - Some perspective: 23 years of Bulldog Soccer - during that span 157 Ws/253 Ls/0 NCAA appearances ... one of the great coaching feats in @HailState history."
That's high praise from a former coach, who was at Humphrey Coliseum on Tuesday night to watch the MSU women's basketball team open its 2018-19 season against Southeast Missouri.
Cohen, who served as head baseball coach at Northwestern State, Kentucky, and MSU, offered some insight as to what he feels helped Anagnost, who he hired in December 2016, and the Bulldogs make history.
"The effort that his kid give every single time they go out there is different," Cohen said. "Obviously we have lost some games and tied some games, but nobody has outhustled us. That is the thing I appreciate about what he has done. This league is so talented in all sports, and soccer especially. We just don't get outhustled and outprepared. It is good to see that rewarded."
MSU (9-6-2) earned an at-large bid despite not qualifying for the 10-team Southeastern Conference tournament. Victories against Memphis (5-2) and South Carolina (2-1) were the highlights in a regular season that saw redshirt senior Rhylee DeCrane break the school's single-season shutout record (eight). MSU allowed 16 goals and the defense held opponents to 11.6 shots per game, which is the lowest mark in program history for both categories.
These days, the "in" term is "buy-in" to describe a coach who connects with players to get them to invest in the program. Relationships like that usually have success because the players understand they can trust their coaches and they want to perform at a high level so they don't disappoint their teammates. Cohen said he has seen that mind-set take hold with Anagnost's program.
"You have to attract kids who want to give that kind of effort," Cohen said. "The other thing is once they get here you have to push them to a level where they're willing to do things they didn't think they were able to do and kind of expand their mind. I think that's what Tom has been able to do, kind of expand their own personal expectations once they get here."
That isn't an easy proposition for any coach, let alone one at the highest level of a sport in one of the nation's top conferences. In previous years, the weight of MSU's history has worked as ballast to counter progress. That changed this season thanks to an undefeated non-conference slate that built confidence and primed the Bulldogs to believe they were good enough to make history.
On Friday, Cohen will be eager to see MSU build on that progress.
"Every student-athlete is the same way. They think they know how to work hard until they get to a level where so many people are as good or better than they are and they have to push themselves beyond those boundaries," Cohen said. "There are very few people on this entire planet who can push themselves to that level without having somebody looking over their shoulder saying, 'You can give me more, and here's how we're going to get there.' Tom is one of those guys. He can get somebody -- and so can Vic Schaefer -- to a level where they didn't think they could go."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.