Steve Robertson -

Mississippi State soccer Dawgs best Tennessee-Martin 3-1.

It was a beautiful clear day for some SEC soccer in Starkville on Sunday afternoon with the Mississippi State Bulldogs taking on the young Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks. Both teams were coming off of losses in their previous matches and were looking to get one in the win column.

Mississippi State dominated on Friday night, but could not find the back of the net and were taken down 1-0 by the Lipscomb Lady Bison. The Skyhawks were still looking for their first victory of the season after getting blown out in their first two matches 7-1 and 4-1 respectively. 

The Bulldogs had some offensive trouble by lacking quality opportunities against Lipscomb 48 hours ago, with that in mind Coach Aaron Gordon made some adjustments to the starting line-up on Sunday. After keeping things the same throughout exhibitions and the first three matches of the season, Coach Gordon inserted Jen Huckaby and Emily Malone into the starting line-up against the Skyhawks.

“Well you know one of the things you try to do from Friday to Sunday is evaluate the minutes played on Friday night," Gordon said.  "Then you try to find out who might’ve had some good moments, didn’t log heavy minutes, or someone who didn’t play, but you have faith in. And that’s the thing about the roster this year unlike any before; we have a lot of people on our team who if they aren’t in the starting line-up or if they don’t get minutes, I think they’re ready to go on Sunday.”  

Coming out of the gate in the first half Sunday, the Bulldogs came out flat and played pretty evenly splitting possessions with the Skyhawks.

“Our response was a little tepid early, we weren’t playing poorly but we need to tighten things up against set pieces. It was a strength last year, but this year we have given up a couple,” said Coach Gordon.

The Skyhawks would strike first, Saphyra Coombs-James found the net by getting a flick on goal off of a set piece for the Skyhawks in the 15th minute of the game. This put the Bulldogs in the exact same position they were in Friday night, down 1-0 in the early going.

The team on Sunday afternoon showed they had learned from their Friday loss to Lipscomb and responded back to the early goal. In the 31st minute, the Bulldogs made a good run up the sideline and played the ball into the box. Freshman forward MaKayla Waldner took her route toward the near post and finished it home after a small scramble for the equalizing goal.

“Lately in practice Aaron (Coach Gordon) has really been harping on us to make those near post runs and the ball went outside and Alexa and Mallory were fighting for it and it just got away from them and I put it away in the left corner” said Waldner.

This tied the game 1-1 in the 31st minute and was the first goal scored for the Bulldogs at home this season. “I stayed calm and all I knew was that I had to keep it low and shoot it” explained Waldner on how she felt during the play.

The star freshman forward now leads the team in goals scored through the first 4 games of the season netting one against #17 ranked Virginia Tech and then again today against Tennessee-Martin.

With the momentum rolling, the Bulldogs kept pressing and forcing the ball into the Skyhawks' half of the field. In the first half, the Bulldogs attempted 10 corner kicks and took six shots on goal. Then just 10 minutes after the Bulldogs equalized, the Tennessee Martin defense made a crucial turnover coughing the ball up to the last person on the Mississippi State roster they wanted to have it. US National team call up forward Mallory Eubanks quickly gained possession of the ball and with lightning speed ran around the last defender and dribbled away from the rushing goalkeeper and finished it home for the Bulldogs.

This put the Bulldogs up 2-1 just before halftime and was a great way to come back from conceding yet another early goal.

“The response was good, we were certainly not happy about giving one up right away but we responded and got it back along with another one right away. Then we get to halftime and kind of just talk about what we need to do” said Coach Gordon about the team’s first half performance.

Going into the second half the Bulldogs continued their offensive onslaught taking another six shots on goal and 10 more total for the 2nd half. The Tennessee Martin team did not let up easily though as their midfield toughened up and started taking possession back into the Mississippi State side of the pitch.

Skyhawks' midfielder Sophia Sharos led that charge by using her size and strength to hold off defending Bulldogs, while she advanced the ball up the field. This led to some frustration from the Bulldog defense as they fouled four times. In the second half, the Bulldogs were yellow carded twice in the 59th minute to Payton Gruenewald and in the 73rd minute to McKenzie Adams.

The Bulldogs remained patient and kept fighting their way through. In the 79th minute, there was a wild scramble for the ball in front of the Tennessee Martin 18 yard box. The ball found its way to Mallory Eubanks who mishit her shot on goal, but the ball took a spin in the right direction going to junior Kelly Dorney.  Dorney poked it into the back of the net making the scoreline 3-1 in favor of the home standing Bulldogs.

“It was kind of like no one had possession and somehow the ball got kicked out to Mallory and I thought she was going to rocket it into the back of the net, but I don’t know it was just an awkward touch and the ball had a funny spin on it and Kelly’s touch just kind of got on it perfectly. It was a good goal and we just weren’t ready for it but definitely well deserved” said Waldner about the final Bulldog’s goal of the day.

It was the finishing touch and secured the very first win for the Mississippi State Bulldogs at home this season and was certainly a great response from the team following Friday night’s loss to Lipscomb.

The team is on the road this next weekend traveling to South Alabama on Friday and then playing Southern Mississippi on Sunday.

“We just got to be better on set pieces and in terms of defending. That’s not a matter of not having the personnel to do it, I think it’s a matter of focus and concentration” said Coach Gordon about things needed to work on going into this road trip.

Both teams that Mississippi State (2-2) are going to face are on a roll, sporting a two game win streak per team and will be a great challenge for Bulldogs going into next weekend.

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