PRIMER: this summer, I’ve been writing articles about how Ole Miss programs could potentially be better next season. This is, very specifically, putting on rose-colored glasses, something that is a little bit difficult for me at the moment given the state of things. There may or may not be bourbon involved in helping me get through these posts, but I do think it’s nice to looks for the hope in every program. So I beat on, boat against the current, born back ceaselessly by the WAOM.
Last season saw the Rebels go 13-8 (6-3 in SEC play) on their way to a second round exit in the NCAA tournament. The Rebels were a tough out but ultimately couldn’t keep up with the No. 1 team in the country, Oklahoma. It was a very good season, but one that was quite sad due to a pair of girls who are essentially irreplaceable. Still, this is rosy column, and don’t worry! There’s reason for optimism! But first, about those graduates.
F CeCe Kizer
GK Marnie Merritt
The most prolific goal scorer in Ole Miss history, Cece Kizer, is now gone. With her is goalkeeper Marnie Merritt, who is second all-time in career shutouts, saves, and wins.
Kizer was selected with the 13th pick of the National Women’s Soccer League draft and has already been called up to the U-23 USWNT. We don’t have room here to list her accolades, but suffice it to say there are many. Interestingly enough, Kizer was recruited as a defender, but that of course isn’t where she ended up. She was almost always the best player on the field last season. It’s tough to say Ole Miss will be in that same position this year.
Merritt had a strong career at Ole Miss, though her senior season was unfortunately cut short after 15 games when she suffered a leg injury. Merritt always seemed to provide a lot of energy and leadership to the team, so it will be interesting to see how that void is filled this year. The good news is that Merritt and Kizer are literally the only two starters who are gone.
F Channing Foster (Junior)
MF Haleigh Stackpole (Sophomore)
D Grace Johnson (Junior)
D Maddy Houghton (Sophomore)
Foster has been selected to the All-SEC team in each of her first two seasons, having scored 20 goals in her short career. She’s quite good at working in the box, but her ability to create without the danger of CeCe Kizer will determine whether she makes it back to post-season accolade lists. She’s certainly capable, but a lot will fall on the team around her.
Stackpole was immediately named a starter and finished playing the second most minutes of anyone on the team (to Kizer). She scored five goals a season ago, four of which were game winners. Again, the question for Stackpole rests on how much of her production and contribution was based on Kizer’s presence. We just won’t know that for a few more weeks.
Johnson came to Ole Miss to join her sister, Ella, and immediately took on a starter role on the back line. She is on the preseason SEC “watch list” along with Foster and Stackpole and is a team captain.
Houghton will be a key figure in the center of the Rebel defense after making 13 starts as a freshman. Along with Johnson, she’ll be counted on to provide stability and experience to a back line that finished 13th in the SEC in goals allowed per game, a number that needs to markedly improve if Ole Miss wants to return to the NCAA tournament.
F Mo O’Connor
MF Jenna Kemp
GK Ashley Orkus (Sophomore)
O’Connor is from Oxford, where she was named a two-time Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and earned All-American honors as a senior. She actually scored twice in the exhibition game last week, but it may be tough for her to find enough minutes in the season, given that she plays the same position as the aforementioned Foster.
Kemp is the most heralded member of the freshman class, earning All-American honors in her junior and senior seasons and helping her high school to a national championship as a junior. She may be asked to try and pick up some of the slack from Kizer’s departure, but that’s putting a lot of pressure on her. We’ll know soon enough how much this team expects to count on Kemp, as there are a lot of people vying for that attacking mid spot.
Orkus sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee. She was a top 150 recruit out of high school and attended several invite-only national team tryouts through high school. Head coach Matt Mott recently said she can do some amazing things out there, as she brings a lot of athleticism to the position.