Soccer Opens SEC Play at Home Against Tennessee

STARKVILLE, Miss. -­ Coming off a nine-day hiatus from competition, the Mississippi State Soccer team will open up Southeastern Conference play on Friday evening with a marquee event as the Bulldogs suit up to take on defending SEC champion and nationally ranked Tennessee in a 7 p.m. contest at the MSU Soccer Field.

Having caught brief glimpses of each other at the First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic just two weeks ago in Knoxville, Tenn., the Maroon and White (3-3-1) and the Big Orange (3-2-2) will meet in Starkville for the fifth time since the 1996 campaign. Tennessee leads the six-game series, 5-1-0, and State will look for its first home win in the series with its lone win coming in Knoxville during the 2000 campaign.

Mississippi State will enter the scheduled four-game homestand more than nine days removed from competition following a 2-0 blanking of Memphis on September 14 and a postponement of its game at Jacksonville State due to Hurricane Ivan sweeping through the state of Alabama late last week. Unbeaten in 11 of its last 13 outings at home, the Maroons will also look to extend a three-game home winning streak as well.

Climbing as high as seventh in the NSCAA Top 25 just more than a week ago, Tennessee's split of a pair of games last weekend with Richmond (L, 1-0) and UNLV (W, 3-1) on Friday and Sunday sent the Lady Vols tumbling all the way to No. 21 in this week's poll. However, the Big Orange has already proven this season that it can hang with the best of the best when it drew even in double overtime with No. 1 North Carolina on Sept. 10, thereby snapping the defending national champion's 31-game winning streak. The Lady Vols are ranked No. 16 in the latest top 25.

"We're going to have to bring our best game to the field Friday night," said Mississippi State head coach Neil Macdonald. "Tennessee is the cream of the crop in the Southeastern Conference and we need to be prepared both mentally and physically for an oustanding challenge. Tennessee is well-coached and very talented."

The Lady Vols are led by the oustanding tandem of freshman Genna Gorman (2G, 3A) and sophomore Ali Christoph (1G, 4A), who have combined to tally more than 33 percent of Tennessee's total offensive output this season. However, the Orange has proven to be a nuisance with any one of a number of other players including 5-0 midfielder Kayla Lockaby (2G) and all-American defender Keeley Dowling (2G).

Mississippi State continues to be led in the scoring column by the usual suspects as junior Betty Ann Casey (3G, 1A) and sophomore Heidi Ondra (3G) have assumed their 1-2 scoring spots vacated after last year¹s season finale. However, plenty of others have stepped up to the scoring challenge as well, including senior Karen Sandrik who has netted the first two goals of her career this season ­ both of them being of the gamewinning variety.

Rookie goalkeeper Stephanie Dallas (1.71 GAA, 35 saves) ranks second in the SEC in saves per game after picking up her first collegiate shutout last week against Memphis.

Following Friday evening's action, the Bulldogs will continue a regularly scheduled four-game homestand on Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Maroon and White faces the Red and Black Bulldogs of Georgia. Admission to all 2004 MSU Soccer home games is free.

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