Coach Neil Mcdonald Feels Good About Season

Mississippi State head soccer coach Neil Mcdonald feels like he has the ingredients that can lead a team to a solid season such as quality veterans, a very good freshman class, a new playing surface and a schedule that will prepare his team for the rigors of the always tough Southeastern Conference.

Although last year didn't go as plan with his team going 9-8-2 overall and 1-8-2 in SEC play, Mcdonald feels good about the 2010 season, especially with a very talented and experienced senior class leading the way.

"I think we have a good senior class," said Mcdonald. "And they are spread out among the different positions on the team, which is good."

Three of the seniors - Leanna Baldner, Kat Walsh and Danielle Kite - will be key components of this year's team.

"We have Leanna Baldner, who is one of our team captains, in the back," noted Mcdonald. "She has played in practically every minute of every game since she has gotten here. She is a great player who will lead the back line. We are also excited that we have Kat Walsh back this year. She led us last year in goals and assists last year. And we've moved Danielle Kite into an attacking role up top.

"I feel like we have important players and veteran players in key spots."

Mcdonald also feels depth will be another area of strength of his 2010 squad.

"(Depth-wise) we are better than we have been in the past," said Mcdonald, who returns 22 players with at least 1 letter and 10 with 2 or more. "We have a squad of 31 players, which is a big squad. So, we have great competition for spots, which is good. And we are seeing that in the quality of our practice sessions right now. Obviously, with the way the schedule is set up we need to have depth and be able to rotate people through the course of the weekend (games)."

He also anticipates several freshmen contributing significant minutes. And a couple of them could even work themselves into starting roles based on their early practice performances.

"I think the freshmen are all capable of giving us quality minutes," said Mcdonald, who has seven true freshmen on this year's squad. "It's going to be interesting to watch the battle between the goal keepers. I think (freshman) Abby Risner has done a great job since she came in. Obviously, we have an experienced keeper in Skylar Rosson. (Freshman) Morganne Grimes has also impressed us a lot on defense. She is looking like she will start for us in the center back position. (Freshman) Elisabeth Sullivan, from Memphis, is looking like she will start in the front line as well. There are three right off the bat that look like they can make an impact."

Starting as a freshman is very impressive on any level. And according to Mcdonald the three potential starters among the freshmen group have been just that, very impressive, especially during the first few days of practice.

"They have played at a high level at the club level so they know what it is all about," said Mcdonald. "And it's obvious that they have been trained well and prepared well for this level. We have played a lot of 8 v 8 and 11 v 11. The other thing that we have done in our practice sessions is make almost everything that we have done a competition. The players get points for their performance, basically. So, we know who is competing and who is getting the job done every day."

Getting the job done last season wasn't the easiest thing to do due to the number of injuries the team had. So far, injuries haven't been a problem during the preseason practices.

"At the moment we are good shape injury-wise," said Mcdonald. "We've had a lot of players come back from injury, so we are in good shape at the moment. We just have the typical knots and bruises that you get when you play, but nothing is serious right now."

Not only did injuries hurt his 2009 squad but not being able to practice much on his home field during the month of October also played a crucial role in an October tailspin that saw his team lose 6 of its last 7 games. But Mcdonald doesn't see the same thing happening this season due to the old crown soccer field being replaced with a much better surface that will have an excellent drainage system.

"We've had a crown on the field but now it will be flat and a sound-based field, which is the latest technology," he noted. "Typically, if you get a heavy rain, the water runs through it, taking about 15 minutes to dry off. We are very excited about that because we train on that facility, so it is important that we have a good surface. Last year, we spent the entire month of October indoors, which did not help us at all. That kind of held us back last year."

As for the soccer schedule, Mcdonald expects it to be another competitive one that will allow his players to prepare for the rigors of SEC play.

"We always try to play a competitive schedule to prepare us for the SEC," said Mcdonald. "And we have good matchups across the board. We open up against Tennessee-Martin at their place. Then we have UAB who is a very good team coming in. And Southern Miss is coming in. That is always an interesting matchup since they are an instate rival. We'll know after the first couple of games how competitive we are. It's a good, competitive schedule that will prepare us well for the SEC."

The Mississippi State soccer team begin play on Friday, August 20th when they play Tennessee-Martin on the road. Their first home game is the following weekend (August 27-29) when they play UAB Friday night at 7 pm followed by another home game against Southern Miss at 1 pm Sunday afternoon.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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