Last year, as a rookie head coach, Vann Stuedeman was riding the bus to Oxford with her softball team for her first game against Ole Miss.
Going in, she said, she knew it was a rivalry and certainly wanted to get a win over the Rebels.
Then, rolling down the highway, she got a text from her boss, Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin.
“It said, ‘This is kind of a big deal,’” Stuedeman recalled.
In that moment came clarity. She’s from the south and is “used to football rivalries,” but the text from Stricklin, just one short sentence, made it real for her.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m the head coach at Mississippi State and we’re going to play the rival and this is kind of a big deal,’” she said. “I wrote back to him, ‘We’re gonna make you proud.’”
And she certainly did that, sweeping Ole Miss in Oxford and racking up wins to help the team to its eventual NCAA Tournament bid.
“He immediately responded back with a text after day three and said, ‘I’m proud.’”
Now, a year later, the Bulldogs are ready to play Ole Miss again, this time at home, laying an unblemished record against teams from the Magnolia State on the line and once more boasting a solid RPI and searching for more wins to put on their tournament resume.
“We’re gonna be looking to do that again,” Stuedeman said.
As the season has progressed, MSU has had both an exciting and frustrating mix of highs and lows, hitting final-inning home runs to secure SEC victories and beating No. 3 Florida in Gainesville this past weekend, but also dropping close games where one inning, one mistake or a single miscue decided the outcome against conference opponents.
“Once we get all the cylinders going together, it’s just unstoppable,” junior second baseman Heidi Shape said. “Pitching, defense, hitting, when we’re all there, it’s gonna be really special.”
The key, of course, is finding a way to get all three going at the same time.
On the mound, Stuedeman’s area of expertise, is where many of the wins and losses have been decided, led by junior Alison Owen. In her first year playing for MSU, she’s already set and re-set the single-game strikeout record multiple times and even recorded a no-hitter in the early goings of the campaign.
Entering the stretch run of the season, Stuedeman is, for the most part, happy with what she’s seen from the pitching staff, but still wants a bit more.
“I don’t think you’re ever satisfied,” she said, “but I love their effort and that they’re willing to learn.”
The series against Ole Miss starts tonight, including several giveaways of T-shirts, signed memorabilia by various MSU coaches and several gift cards, and starts at 7 on ESPNU for those not in Starkville.
“Just to show Mississippi State to the country is a really cool thing and we’re really excited about it,” senior outfielder Jessica Cooley said. “Any time you play a state rival it’s always a serious game, but it’s fun just to get our fans out here, just because it is such a highly-competitive atmosphere and we want to put on a good show for the fans.”
Game two of the series is Saturday at 1 p.m. and the final match-up takes place on Sunday at the same time.
Going into a weekend of MSU-Ole Miss, Stuedeman still knows it’s kind of a big deal.
“It’s a state ownership and we want to have those bragging rights,” she said.