Staying Home

Matt Mott and his soccer company had to wait a long time to hear the words they hoped for. Only four slots remained to be filled in the field of 64 when Ole Miss popped up on the screen Monday afternoon as a NCAA Tournament host site.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

The Rebels will play Jackson State at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium.

The Rebel program has been to the NCAA Tournament four times previously, the last time in the fall of 2009. This is a first, however, when it comes to hosting.

"Extremely heart-pounding and stressful," Mott said of having to wait until the final four teams were announced to see Ole Miss up there. "I felt like we were in. But just waiting and waiting. That's how selection shows go. Some people are happy at the beginning, and others are stressed until the end."

Mott, in his fourth season as head coach of the Rebels, said playing at home in the NCAA Tournament is always a goal.

"This is another step forward for us. That's what we're trying to do every year," he said. "It gives us a chance to compete at home and gives these seniors another home game. It's really awesome."

The Rebels are 15-5-2 this season and coming off a 1-1 performance at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. They defeated Kentucky 2-0 and lost to Florida 2-1. Ole Miss was the fourth-seed in that tournament.

"Our Kentucky game is the best we've played all year," said Mott, whose teams had fallen short of making the NCAA Tournament field in his first three seasons in Oxford. "I feel we're peaking at the right time. We're pretty healthy. I feel good about them and the way we've been playing."

Jackson State enters the NCAA Tournament 10-9-2 and earned a bid by claiming the Southwest Athletics Conference Tournament last weekend with a win over Alabama State in the championship game. The Tigers and the Rebels have two opponents in common this season - Northwestern State and Mississippi State. The Tigers lost both matches, while the Rebels picked up wins over both the Demons and the Bulldogs.

Erin Emerson
Joshua McCoy

The current Ole Miss players are not only pleased to be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their careers, but they get to showcase their accomplishments at home in the opener.

"It was awesome to see our name up there as a host," said junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick. "We are ready and we believe we are at the peak of our game. Each game is a battle, but we're ready."

"I've always wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament," said senior midfielder Erin Emerson. "I started freshman year, and we didn't get there the past three years. It's exciting to get to play in the NCAA Tournament."

Emerson said the word "team" is appropriate for this year's soccer club of the Rebels.

"We're very close this year," she said. "That's helped a lot on the field and off the field. You can tell the unity and how each other plays. We just look to each other."

Now the focus is on actually playing in the tournament. Before Monday, it was about doing enough to get there and seeing one of their goals accomplished.

"None of us have been in the NCAA Tournament before," McCormick said. "I know it's going to be an awesome experience."

If the Rebels defeat JSU, they will play the winner of the Florida State-South Alabama game. That contest would be a week from Friday.

OM Spirit Top Stories