Mississippi State’s soccer team lost its first four games of the season. Since then, its won three of its last four. Those are the ups and downs expected in a team with 18 freshmen and 28 people who have only been playing together for about a month. However, the recent stretch seems indicative of things starting to click for Aaron Gordon’s team in his second year as head coach.
“I think we are definitely getting somewhere,” junior Shelby Jordan said. “We’ve been getting better with every game. I’m really looking forward to playing this weekend because I think, finally, our team is really getting to where they’re kind of understanding what exactly Coach wants from us. I think it’s starting to come together.”
This weekend, of course, SEC play begins. To make it even better, the Bulldogs open conference play against Ole Miss. MSU’s head coach is from Texas, but he’s quickly learned what the in-state battle means to those around the programs and state.
“It’s like any rivalry,” Gordon said. “Lines are drawn by color. In Mississippi, it’s clear the division is two schools, two different colors. I think it’s fun to be a part of.”
Although, Gordon cautions putting too much into it. Over-talking the subject can sometimes get into players’ heads and prevent them from playing as well as they can. He makes sure to let his team know it’s important, but he doesn’t overstate anything.
To him, the biggest thing is being a better team, which he thinks is happening. He’s quick to point out that while the first eight games of the season can be split into wins and losses, the final results aren’t entirely indicative of how MSU played.
In fact, he said, the one game where State got blown out, it was a close a competition as they’ve had had all year.
“I’d compare it to two football teams being even, but the quarterback has a bad day and throws three interceptions,” he said.
Gordon has been pleased with the improvements, but his focus is just as much on the big picture as small.
“Let’s put it in perspective,” he said. “28 players playing eight games, we’ve been together for a month. So, a brand new team, 2/3 are young, anything more than what we’ve had would be icing on the cake. We’re building a lot of things behind the scenes that are gonna set us up well for the future.”
While soccer is the main dish, let’s talk a little Mississippi for a side.
McKenzie Adams, midfielder/defender, Madison, Mississippi
What does the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry mean to you? It’s huge. It’s just crazy because every time MSU plays Ole Miss is any sport it’s just a crazy rivalry game. It’s all over Twitter and it’s just crazy. I lived in Starkville until fifth grade. I grew up coming to all the games.
What makes you proud to be from Mississippi? Everybody’s really, really nice and I just love the Bulldogs and I’m glad I don’t go to Ole Miss. I like fried okra a lot. I like the tailgating all the time.
Kayleigh Henry, defender, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
What does the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry mean to you? That’s a big deal. My sister goes to Ole Miss and we didn’t talk to each other for a while when she decided to go there and I decided to come here. It’s a really big deal and it’s more just protecting our state. It fires me up even thinking about Ole Miss. It’s the pride and protecting what I think is ours.
What makes you proud to be from Mississippi? Everything about it. More the hospitality. I know that’s a cliché, but everybody is so nice and really welcoming and warming. Everybody is just so loving and it makes you feel good inside. Mississippi is really different and has its own unique culture about it and that plays into why it’s the greatest state in America.
Shelby Jordan, defender, Jackson, Tennessee
What does the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry mean to you? It’s a big one. I feel like it’s been a thing for a long time. Every time they come in here, it’s a big deal.
Why do you think people are so proud of Mississippi? I feel like Mississippi people love their state because everybody’s so nice here. If you’re an outsider that’s coming in, you meet all kinds of fun people down here.
Aaron Gordon, head coach, Dallas, Texas
What does the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry mean to you? Without a doubt, what the rivalry means to me is, I want to beat Ole Miss because when we have really talented players in our state I want them to come here. I think it starts and ends with the rivalry itself. We get one chance to play them a year. Last year, I had a bitter taste in my mouth at the end of the season.
What does it mean to your team? As many kids as we have on our roster from Mississippi and neighboring states, they get it. They understand it and they know a lot of kids on the other team. In both cases, probably both sets of coaches looked at similar players.