SEC season starts at home for UM soccer

Coach Steve Holeman's Lady Rebel soccer team opens Southeastern Conference play today at 7 p.m. in Oxford against Georgia. On Sunday, the Lady Rebs host Tennessee at 1 p.m.

It's the start of the second season. The first season was not kind to Ole Miss as the preseason SEC West favorite Lady Rebels stand at 4-4 in non-conference action.

"It's a new season for us now as we enter SEC play," Holeman said. "The girls are excited. They're motivated. They're ready to play."

Scoring has been the biggest problem so far for Holeman's troops. In three of their four losses, the Lady Rebels have failed to score a single goal.

"We just need to score more," Holeman said. "Once we score that first goal in a game, we seem to have so much more confidence. We've been getting a lot of shots. They just haven't gone in for us at times."

Holeman says the practices this week have been designed for improvement on the offensive end. "We've worked a lot on just finishing," he said. "Shooting. Scoring. We've had some sessions designed specifically working on scoring. We can score. We just lack a little confidence right now."

Georgia and Tennessee won't be easy foes to get things righted, however. Both are formidable SEC opponents.

"Georgia will come in here and it will be a great game," Holeman said of the 2-3-2 Bulldogs. "They have played what I feel is the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC. Last weekend they played North Carolina, the defending national champs and currently ranked No. 1 in the country, and also Duke. Georgia will be ready. We'll be ready. They're very athletic and competitive. It will be a great SEC matchup.

"On Sunday, Tennessee will be probably even harder," he continued. "They were SEC champs the past two years and are picked to win it all again. We feel good about playing them at home. They are one of the most athletic and talented teams in the country. Tennessee will be a great challenge. We have to bring our best game every time we step on the field to get the best results."

Last weekend Ole Miss dropped road matches at No. 6 Kansas Friday and Saint Louis Sunday, marking consecutive regular-season losses for the first time since 2001, which was also the last time the Rebels were without a winning record through eight matches.

Injuries have taken their toll on Ole Miss, particularly on defense where two starters were absent against Saint Louis. Senior Ramey Rush, who had started every match the last three years, suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, and after playing with the injury for three matches, she will undergo season-ending surgery.

Lyndsey Williams, the Rebels' Defensive MVP in 2002, suffered a concussion Friday in the Kansas match, sidelining her for a week, although she is expected in the lineup for the conference opener tonight.

Fellow redshirt sophomore and team leading scorer Brittney Potts also sustained a concussion over the weekend, and her status is unknown until later today. Potts has four goals and two assists on the year.

The Bulldogs and Rebels have split their last six meetings. Georgia defeated Ole Miss 2-1 a year ago in Athens in the 2003 league opener.

Tennessee is the reigning SEC regular-season and tournament champion and currently ranked 16th in the nation (SoccerTimes.com) with a 3-2-2 record. The Lady Volunteers also faced a tough non-SEC lineup, defeating Duke 4-3 in double overtime, losing to No. 15 Washington 2-1, and handing the 18-time national champion UNC Tar Heels their lone blemish with a scoreless tie in Knoxville.

Last year Ole Miss shut out Tennessee 1-0 in Knoxville in the regular season, but the Lady Vols rebounded for a 2-0 victory in the SEC Tournament en route to their second straight tourney crown.

"It's great to be playing at home," Holeman said of the weekend. "We've been getting good crowds for our non-conference home games. It is important to kick off the SEC season right, and we're glad to have that opportunity to do it at home."

One SEC soccer note, the SEC Tournament Nov. 4-7 has been moved from Orange Beach, Ala., to Auburn, Ala., because of the damage left by Hurricane Ivan.

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