For those of you wondering how I could possibly commit such a treasonous act as to reference communism and John Philip Sousa in the same headline, check the spelling. For those of you who have no idea who Sousa is, read a book or Wikipedia. For those of you thinking I should check my spelling, it is time that you meet Matt Mott, head coach of the Ole Miss women's soccer team.
Second-Year Coach, Matt Mott
Flashback to the first time I saw a game coached by Matt Mott: it was last season, probably one of the first few games, and within about five minutes, I was more excited about Ole Miss soccer than I had ever been before.
(While calling me out for hyperbole might be your natural reaction, let me remind you that I have attended women's soccer games in seven of the past eight seasons; I talk about soccer - yes, even Ole Miss women's soccer - so much that I even brought up the topic at our tent after the BYU game and lost the best man in my wedding as a friend...for the rest of the night; and during a game about three years ago, I even organized a group of about 20 college guys who wore scarves and chanted and sang the entire game - we had a little diddy for everyone of those sorry Commodore women.)
Two things got me excited. The first was that there were some ladies getting significant playing time who under former coach, Steve Holeman, were only used as make-shift substitutes. One of those former substitutes had been deployed in the center of the midfield. I'd always liked this particular player, but it struck me that she was filling a central role on the field. Why would I have put her there? Well, she's attack-minded with her distribution. The second moment of excitement was when I heard the assistant coach lashing out at the players for not pressing high enough up the field. No, it wasn't because he had a British accent; I've played against enough foreign players in my life, Brits included, to know that foreignness has nothing to do with soccer ability. Rather, the reason this was exciting is coupled with the attack-minded players on the field, this signified a definite shift in the soccer mentality in Oxford. In one game, I saw Ole Miss go from conservative, boring and relatively successful to creative, exciting and unlimited potential.
A Time of Transition
Despite the excitement from that first game I witnessed last year, we had an overall less-than-spectacular season. There were positive surprises, such as the win over 25th-ranked Auburn and the 0-0 draw with 18th-ranked Georgia, which were off-set by a terrible end to the season, which saw the team give Cowtown its only SEC win and miss out on the SEC tournament for the first time in 14 years. While losing to State in soccer is never to be expected, such an inconsistent season was no surprise with such drastic changes.
The women's soccer program at Ole Miss was started in 1995 by former coach, Steve Holeman, who also started Auburn's program. As evidenced by the 13 straight SEC tournament appearances, four NCAA appearances...Holeman did a pretty stellar job for our first coach. However, Holeman still comes from the old school of coaching in this country. If you've watched a men's national team game prior to this year, you might have noticed that we are rather consistently fit, physical and defensive-minded. The US has historically has a problem scoring goals, which is unfortunate since that is how you win. Holeman's teams were made for consistency where individual performances on any given day could lift the squad to a surprise victory or defeat but where otherwise our team was content with being middle of the pack.
Par contre, Matt Mott comes to Ole Miss having never been a head coach before at the DI level. Prior to his arrival at Ole Miss, he was the head assistant at Texas and Auburn. Having coached for much of his life, he is the winningest coach in history for DIII Hilbert College in NY. And honestly, none of that matters. What Mott brings is an attitude and willingness to evolve his style of play. The most successful teams in the world are the most organized, unpredictable and frustrating teams. Organized in the way they defend as a unit. Unpredictable in the way that the players are permitted to unleash their creativity and try new things on offense. Frustrating because they make it difficult for opponents to execute their game plan by pushing high up the field. Mott made a commitment to being one of the best even without the personnel to do it.
2011 Season So Far
Teams like that described above need highly technical, physically fit and mentally quick players. Last year allowed Matt Mott to put the crop of players recruited before his arrival to the test. As you'll see if you come out to a match this year, some of them have really stepped up to the plate, but the most impressive player, who checks all the boxes, is Rafaelle Souza, a.k.a. Rafa. Recruited by Mott from Brazil, she could very well be the first First Team All-American in our program's history.
The Lady Rebels are 3-1-1 going into tonight's game against nationally-ranked Memphis. Starting the season 3-0, there was a point in the season (the 34th minute of the third game) before which the team had netted five goals...and all were scored by Rafa. The season opener at home against Southern Miss was a 2-0 victory, which while hard fought at times was never in question. Rafa's goals in that game were from a corner and a 40 yard free kick. From there, the team traveled to Texas Tech, a team that beat the Rebels 2-0 last year, and avenged the loss with another shutout, 1-0. Texas Tech is a tough place to play and had one of the best seasons in recent memory last year. This will hopefully be a quality win by season's end. The third game was a walk in the park as the team routed Jackson State 8-0. (That same Jackson State team was most recently beaten 1-0 in a hard fought match with State - I think we'll kill the Cowtowners this year.)
Since that strong start to the season, the Rebels are 0-1-1, but the competition has been much stronger as well. The draw was against Wright State at a tournament in Auburn. The Rebels tied 0-0 and really only had themselves to blame in not putting away numerous chances. Still, it was a decent result against a strong team who had already played 7th-ranked Ohio State earlier this season. The loss was at the same tournament...to 6th-ranked Duke by a score of 1-0. Duke plays in the best soccer conference in the country and put us on our heals from the start. It was a good early season test for this team.
One goal has been scored on the Rebels in four games and we have one of the most exciting players in the country. I could go on about Rafa but I know I will be talking about her more with every game that passes. The Rebels are playing at Memphis tonight, and I think it is worth your time to go to the game if you are up there. The Mrs. and I might even make the trip from Oxford so we can make sure not to miss any incredible goals.
For those of you students or unemployed folks, I hope you can attend our next home game on MONDAY at 1PM (who schedules this?!?). ALL HOME GAMES ARE FREE!!