Macdonald Talks MSU Soccer

Mississippi State head soccer coach Neil Macdonald sat down with Gene's Page/Dawgs' Bite to discuss this year's team and the expectations he has for it. The soccer team's season starts tonight with a 7 p.m. home match against Iowa State and they conclude their season-opening two-game homestand with a Sunday afternoon match against Samford.

Returning six starters and 12 letterwinners from a 2004 squad that finished the season 9-9-3 and a berth in the SEC Tournament, Mississippi State plays a 20-game schedule that includes 9 home games and 11 road games. After playing nine of their first twelve games on the road, the squad will conclude their regular season with 6 of their final 8 games at home.

What are your expectations for this year's club? Last year, your team was 9-9-3. Do you believe this year's team can achieve that type record again?
"Yeah, I think that we can. Our goal is to at least match what we did last year. I think this year we need to get off to a good start and develop some momentum. There may be an element of transition in the beginning because we do have a young team. I think our out-of-conference schedule is a little easier this year. One of the problems we have to solve is, in the past, Mississippi State has possibly struggled against teams that we should beat and we have done very well against teams that were probably stronger than us. We need to learn to win the games that we should win. This season, hopefully, will be a turning point for us in that regard. Hopefully, we can start to put away teams that we should be able to handle.

"While there are games that we should win, the conference schedule is, obviously, very, very difficult. It always is. There's very little difference in the twelve teams in the SEC. It is going to be very strong again."

Talk about the seniors that you have coming back and where they fit on the team this year.
"We have four seniors. Emily Meyers is our starting goal keeper. Last year was her first in goal and she did a great job. She'll do a good job of leading the defense this fall. Heather Ammann, who will be a key player for us, will play in the defensive midfield and also at center back. She is very talented and was a Region 3 player. Meghan Odom, a Mississippi kid, is our team captain. She'll play in the center of the midfield. And the last senior is Betty Ann Casey, who is probably our top returning striker. In the past, she has played her role by coming off the bench. This year, we are looking for her to play 90 minutes every game. She is certainly capable of that."

You also have an abundance of sophomores on this year's team. What kind of improvements have you seen from them since they first set foot on campus?
"Danielle Smith, who is from (Meridian) Mississippi, has done an amazing job. She has learned a lot during the offseason and is somebody that you will see step up this coming fall. Jessica Davis, who probably started about 60% to 70% of the games for us at right back, has moved to a center back position and has done a fantastic job for us. She has really stepped up to be a leader. We are expecting really great things from her this fall. Treena Ferguson is a sophomore from Canada who has the least experience. But we saw improvements in her game during the spring. She has been working very hard on her forward movements and the runs she needs to make and the timing of those runs. I think she will do well this year.

"Kevyn Shelledy had an outstanding freshman year, but got injured in late October due to some problems with her shins. Until then, she had started and held the center midfield position most of her freshman year. She is someone who can help us a lot. Jennifer Turpin, who is from the same club as Kevyn, is another one who has developed tremendously. I expect her to play right back or right midfield for us this year. In the spring, she had an outstanding season where she really grew up a lot. We saw some real maturity in her over the course of the spring. Brandi Parker had a great spring season, but got injured right at the end of it. She was taking a shot (at the goal) and something went in her knee. It wasn't anything too serious. She's been working hard again and we are hoping she will be ready to go. Brandi, if she is fit, will be a huge difference maker for us because she is capable of scoring goals and creating goals for other people. She is just a phenomenal athlete. Stephanie Dallas, who probably started 6 games for us last season, will compete with Emily for playing time in the goal."

Do you have any freshmen coming in who you feel will compete for immediate playing time?
"Yeah, without a doubt. I hope to see Meredith Jacobson start for us at center box. Bethany Frazier, who is from the Mississippi United team, was an outstanding leader on that team. She plays left back and is a naturally left-sided player. She can play in the center as well. She will be another player who will have an immediate impact for us. Ashlee Drake, who is from Iowa, has a very good opportunity to come in and play just because she is so versatile. She can play almost any position on the field."

Your schedule isn't doing you any favors this year because your first two games are at home, then 9 of the next 10 are on the road. Don't you feel that's a tough, tough schedule, especially considering the youth of your team?
"Yeah, the traveling will be tough, but it's the cards that we have been dealt. From a mental standpoint, the girls will get tired due to all the traveling. We've talked about that as a staff and have changed our training routine throughout the course of the season. Where we have trained in the afternoons in the past, we are now going to train the first thing in the morning with the hope that the girls will have a little bit more downtime in the afternoons and evenings when they can relax and get away from soccer some."

Have you had a schedule as tough as this one is?
"Yeah, it seems to be like this every two to three years. I think my first year here as an assistant we had a fairly brutal SEC schedule."

How do you keep their spirits up during a ten-game run like that, especially if you don't do as well as you hope you will?
"Since I took over the program last year, I have always told them that we take each game on a day to day basis. We don't look ahead and we approach each game one at a time. With that, you have the mentality, whether you win or lose, that you immediately forget about it. If you win on a Friday evening, that's great, you enjoy it that evening, but when Saturday rolls around, you need to have forgotten about it and start concentrating on what is going to happen on Sunday. That's our goal whether we win or lose."

This is your second year as the head coach. What type program are you trying to build at Mississippi State?
"My background is working class from Scotland. And, for me, there is only one way to do things and that is to outwork everyone else.

"Our goal is to bring in kids who love the game and who are going to be very committed to Mississippi State. When you have that mentality, you can't go wrong. We want to create a pride in the program where we have kids who are very, very committed to the cause. We are first looking for kids that are close to our doorstep. If the talent is here, we are going to recruit it very hard.

You mentioned the Mississippi United team, which is a team made up of high school aged girls from the state of Mississippi. This past soccer season they wound up 10th in the nation. Is the soccer getting better in the state of Mississippi?
"Yes it is. I think we have a good coaching structure in place in the state of Mississippi, now. That means they are getting good coaching at a younger age. And the Mississippi United club has done a great job of going to the big tournaments. The only way you become good is by playing against the best. And they've had that type experience for the past couple of years."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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