Soccer starts secondary season Saturday

Not many teams consider a runner-up finish in the SEC West a disappointment, but that is what occurred for Ole Miss soccer in 2006. Due to falling short of team goals, Coach Steve Holeman recognizes a newfound motivation as his team begins its secondary season this Saturday against Middle Tennessee and Marshall at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively in Memphis, Tenn.

"This time of year is strictly used to get better for the fall campaign, and it might be the best effort I have seen from a group since I have been here," Holeman said. "There is a motivational factor with this team. That is a reason we are doing so well. We didn't accomplish what we intended, and that just isn't good enough."

The expectations are on such a pedestal because of the 2005 season when Ole Miss captured the program's third SEC West title and advanced to the NCAA tournament before losing to No. 14 Pepperdine. That success has placed perennial pressure on the Lady Rebels who are beginning to be viewed as a power on the regional level.

"We missed the division title by one point last year and lost a nail-biter in the SEC tournament," Holeman said. "Six years ago that may be a successful season but not anymore. We set a standard for ourselves where we can't be content until we reach certain levels."

Attaining those goals will begin with preparation and competition from now until April 21 as the team competes in nine matches against other Division I programs and finishes with the annual Alumni Game against former Lady Rebels.

The highlight of the spring season occurs on March 31 in Ridgeland when Ole Miss and LSU form the opening act prior to a MLS preseason encounter between the Chicago Fire and Los Angeles Galaxy.

"Kind of like spring baseball, professional soccer teams move south, and the Fire has been coming to Jackson for a few years," Holeman said. "Then, they bring in another team to finish up the training. The director is a good friend of mine and wanted an Ole Miss, Mississippi State rivalry to go with it, but State has always backed out of the event. That is why we have played Southern Miss and are now playing LSU."

The Rebels are home a week earlier on March 24 for 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. starts versus Memphis and Louisiana-Monroe. Also waiting near the end of the schedule is a road trip to Tulsa, Okla., for a double header against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State April 24. The Cowgirls defeated Ole Miss 1-0 during an exhibition in Oxford last season.

"We are facing two very quality Big XII opponents," Holeman said. "Oklahoma State was one step away from the Sweet 16 and considered top-10 nationally at one point last year. Quality spring opponents give us great practice to make us better."

One thing that will improve the Lady Rebels is avoiding the injury bug that struck last offseason. Megan Vickery teamed with Ann Shelton to set the school record for goals against average in 2005, but the Dallas, Texas native tore her ACL during a pick-up game and had to be red-shirted in 2006.

Vickery is now ready to go, but rising sophomore Jackie DeNova suffered a car accident over Thanksgiving and has not been able to take the field up to this point. DeNova filled in admirably for Vickery as a freshman with a .857 save percentage in five appearances and should be released for play at some point during the spring season.

"Megan is playing well, but Jackie is experiencing headaches and is just not fully back," Holeman said. "She should be soon though. We will be three-deep with capable goalies during the fall."

The spring season also offers Ole Miss a chance to try out different things without consequence and give players the opportunity to change roles or impress during competition.

"Trying different line-ups and letting players experiment with other positions during game play is a big advantage," Holeman said. "Also, some players didn't get a ton of minutes during the fall so now they can have opportunity to earn more playing time."

While most athletes receive praise on the field, a 2006 team captain recently received one of Ole Miss' highest all-around honors. Ashley Ferree was one of 10 students to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame at the end of January based on academic achievement, service to the community, leadership in extra-curricular activities and potential for continued success. Ferree touts a 3.94 GPA in exercise science.

"We are very proud of Ashley and what she has accomplished as she is very deserving of this," Holeman said. "She has an incredible sense of being able to balance classes, soccer, extra-curricular activities, helping with the community and being a member of the student athletic advisory committee. Amazingly, she also finds time to help others."

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