The team looked poised to make a run for a spot in the tournament during the last five contests of the season. After a 1-0 win over the then-17th ranked Georgia Lady Bulldogs on Oct. 19, the Mississippi State team was primed for a trip to the tournament at Orange Beach, Ala., but they proceeded to lose four straight SEC matches to close out the season. Three of those losses were by one goal, which added even more frustration.
Even though an SEC tournament berth wasn't in the cards for the Lady Bulldogs, they were a much improved squad from the 2006 campaign. In that season, they possessed a 2-16-0 record, with only one win in SEC play. This season saw the win column more than double as they ended the season with a 6-11-1 record.
Graben said she partially credits the boost in the team's overall performance to offseason conditioning.
"We came in for the second term of summer school, which was the first time we've done that, and did a lot of training then," said the Gulfport native. "I think that helped us to stay fit, because last year it took us a little longer to get [in shape]. We came into the preseason [in shape], so we got to focus more on our style of play, and I think we have found a system that works for us."
In addition to the offseason conditioning, the players also bonded during that month prior to the start of the fall semester. Graben noted that the bonding time helped in the team's cohesion heading into the start of the season.
"Team chemistry has really helped," said Graben. "We learned to all be accountable for our mistakes and take responsibility for what needs to be done. We didn't blame each other [for any mistakes]."
Leadership was an asset for the team as well. Senior forward Treena Ferguson came into the season as the only player to score multiple goals during the previous season. She again led the way in the goal scoring category for the Lady Bulldogs with seven goals, matching her total from the previous season.
Graben acknowledged that the team will miss Ferguson's ability to score goals, and she said that the team will have to work hard to replace the player who scored almost half of the squad's goals over the past two seasons.
"Losing Treena [as well as forward Jessica Davis and goalkeeper Stephanie Dallas] is going to be hard for us," Graben admitted. "Replacing Treena is going to be hard. I played with her and J.D. (Davis) this entire season up top, and it's going to be hard to replace them. They were a great asset to the team, and we're really going to miss them."
But Graben began working this season on helping to shoulder some of the offensive load.
She came into the season with a positive mindset and with a desire to prove her abilities to the team. This season was her first season to get significant minutes in virtually every contest, and the sophomore took full advantage of it.
Graben was second on the team in goals (5), assists (5) and overall points (15). She also had three game-winning goals to her credit, including the game-winner in the upset over Georgia.
As she begins looking forward to next season, she has already started noting the things that she can do to be a better player and leader for the squad.
"I need to work on shooting and relaxing with the ball, and I need to be more confident when I take on a player," said Graben.
"There's a lot that I can work on, but I mainly just want to be able to provide for our team and hold onto the ball so we can get opportunities on goal so we can get the results that we need."
And, as evident this season, if she puts her mind to it, she will more than likely do it.