Ole Miss faces the best team in the SEC on Thursday night at Vanderbilt, who currently sit at 15-1. The Rebels currently sit fifth in the conference, and a win against Vanderbilt could propel them to a fourth place finish, leading to a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament. If a series of other games fall a certain way, the Rebels could finish as low as seventh, which would miss the bye the top six teams earn. For only a few days, there’s a lot of important soccer left to be played.
The Rebels are squarely on the bubble for the postseason, and a win against Vandy or a decent team in the SEC tournament could firm up the bid. 64 teams make the NCAA tournament, and the Rebels sit at 52nd in the RPI. Head coach Matt Mott suggests they may already be on the right side of the bubble, but a win or draw Thursday probably makes the debate unnecessary.
So aside from those reasons, why should you watch tonight?
It’s Cece Kizer’s last home game as a Rebel.
Kizer is the all-time Ole Miss leader in goals scored and points. She’s just remarkably and astonishingly better than everyone on the field when she’s out there. Even people who don’t know much about soccer (see: me) can tell. If she gets the ball in the open field, it barely matters which team or goalkeeper she’s facing.
Kizer has scored 13 goals this season, which also leads the SEC. Oh... and she also leads the SEC in assists. She’s a super-dynamic player who makes things happen. If the Rebels stand a chance Thursday, they need a goal or two from Kizer on senior day.
Kizer isn’t the only senior playing.
The Rebels have six seniors on the squad, with Kizer, D Ella Frischknecht, and D Mary Kate Smith playing significant minutes.
Smith has started most games during her two years at Ole Miss and helps a solid back line that ranks in the top half of the league in goals allowed in spite of facing a tough level of competition.
Ella Frischknecht also works on the back line and has started 10 games this season after starting every game last year. Sophomore Grace Johnson starts alongside her on the defense, and they’re pretty close ... given that they’re sisters (Frischknecht is married). It’s nice to see them play together, even if only for a few more games.
I wish we could see keeper Marnie Merritt play again, but unfortunately she tore her ACL against Arkansas and has played her final game in an Ole Miss uniform.
But there’s significant youth too.
Merritt’s replacement has been Morgan McAslan, who has allowed just four goals in four SEC games played. The Ontario native has been a welcome addition, especially given the concern about a potentially bare cupboard without Merritt (who was a high school All-American and started every game in her career). McAslan appears capable of taking the reins.
While Kizer is the best scorer on the team, sophomore Channing Foster is solid as well, with eight goals on the year. Foster was second-team All-SEC as a freshman, with 12 goals on the season. This year hasn’t been as prolific, but she’s still playing quite well.
Freshman midfielder Haleigh Stackpole leads the team in minutes played and is third on the team in goals scored with 4.
This team is going to have trouble replacing Cece Kizer, but all is not lost. If nothing else, at least they’ve signed an All-American midfielder in Jenna Kemp, right?