Rebels are different team after shaky conference start

Posted on Oct 22 2015 - 9:49am by Christoph Ludwig


When the latest edition of the NSCAA Coaches’ Poll was released on Tuesday, the Ole Miss soccer team rose from 21st to 13th after several consecutive wins over top 10 teams. This ranking is the highest in program history, surpassing the number 17 ranking the team earned in 2009.

Their success has drawn more fans to the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium with 1,510 supporters showing up to witness the Rebels’ win over then tenth-ranked Auburn on Friday, the fifth-largest crowd in school history.

Ole Miss’s meteoric rise begs the question — does this team have staying power?

The Rebels started SEC play with losses to 18-ranked Kentucky and eighth-ranked Florida, and it appeared that another tough conference schedule would be the Rebels downfall after going undefeated against their non-conference opponents. Since their 4-1 loss to the Gators on Sept. 18, however, they’ve caught fire, going 6-1. What’s changed for the Rebels?

Offensively, the Rebels have become much more balanced. Freshman CeCe Kizer leads the team in goals with 11, but most of those came in non-conference play. Kizer has not scored since a loss to Missouri on Oct. 2. Her teammates have picked up the slack, most notably junior Addie Forbus.

Forbus has 10 goals this season and has scored in six out of the Rebels’ eight SEC games, including goals against 10th ranked South Carolina and against Auburn, putting a win out of reach for the Tigers. Junior Georgia Russell scored her first goal of the season against South Carolina, and senior Bethany Bunker knocked in a goal for the first time this season against Auburn. Junior Gretchen Harknett is another crucial part of the offense as she is starting to hit her stride. Harknett leads the team in assists with six, along with three goals.

The offense is playing well, but ultimately this team will go as far as their defense can take them. Despite losing senior team captain Samantha Sanders to a knee injury, the Rebel defense has been lights out. The Rebels shut out both South Carolina and Auburn consecutively and were the first team to hold a potent LSU offense scoreless.

Senior defender Jessica Hiskey, who started the season as a defensive midfielder, has stepped into Sanders’ role seamlessly. After the Auburn win, multiple Rebel defenders received accolades: Hiskey was named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week, both Hiskey and fellow senior Maddie Friedmann were named to Top Drawer’s Soccer Team of the Week and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Marnie Merritt was nominated for the Capital One Impact Performance of the Week and made it onto SportsCenter.

Ultimately, this is a better and much more confident team than the one that opened SEC play 0-2, and if they played Florida, Kentucky or Missouri today there would be a much different score. They’ve proven to themselves and to the rest of the country that they can beat anyone. This team can make a deep run not just in the SEC tournament but in the NCAA tournament as well.