Mississippi State senior Carly Mauldin, left, reacts, as teammate Courtney Robicheaux receives a hug from Jen Huckaby, right, and another teammate Monday after the women’s soccer team learned it received a bid to the NCAA tournament. MSU will play host to Lipscomb in its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Photo by: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
November 6, 2018 10:52:37 AM
STARKVILLE -- History was made at 3:40 p.m. Monday.
A shout of delight by associate head coach Matt Kagan echoed throughout the Crane Team Theater in the Shira Complex when Mississippi State appeared on the screen and was paired with Lipscomb in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Soccer tournament.
As Kagan's excitement reverberated throughout the theater, the MSU players screamed and hugged. There even wear a few tears of joy as a program that started in 1995 made history with its first NCAA tournament bid.
"We were pretty confident," MSU second-year coach Tom Anagnost said of his thoughts prior to the 3:30 p.m. selection show. "But as the day goes on and halfway through the bracket you don't hear or see your name, it got a little nerve-wracking. My heart was pounding."
Truth be told, Anagnost had the bracket selection on his phone, so he had a 45-second head start on learning the news his team had secured an NCAA bid. He said he stood up and paced before reaction that erupted in the theater.
"Matt is always the emotional one," Anagnost said.
MSU (9-6-2) earned an at-large bid despite not qualifying for the 10-team Southeastern Conference tournament. The Bulldogs went 2-6-2 in the league but used a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of No. 19 and the SEC's strongest schedule to build a resume that earned it an opportunity to play host to the Atlantic Sun Conference champion Bison. At press time, a time and a date for the match this weekend hadn't been confirmed.
Earlier in the season, MSU reached its highest ranking in the NCAA's RPI when it debuted at No. 2. The Bulldogs also played the toughest schedule. Victories against Memphis (5-2) and South Carolina (2-1) were the highlights in a regular season that saw redshirt senior Rhylee DeCrane break the school's single-season shutout record (eight). MSU allowed 16 goals and the defense held opponents to 11.6 shots per game, which is the lowest mark in program history for both categories.
"They put the work in, they believed in themselves, they had great leadership, and we have good people," Anagnost said. "When you have those things, good things happen."
MSU was one of nine teams from the SEC to make the NCAA tournament. The nine matched a record the league set last season. It is the 11th time in the last 12 seasons the SEC has had at least six teams advance to postseason play.
Tennessee earned a No. 2 national seed, while South Carolina and Texas A&M are No. 3 seeds. Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt also earned bids. Eight of the nine teams earned the right to play host to their opening-round matches.
"Just waiting to hear our name is kind of nerve-wracking," senior midfielder Carly Mauldin said. "You saw everybody just sitting there jittery and waiting for our name to be announced. Coming into it, I think it was more of we know we are in it, but who are we going to play and where are we going to play."
Mauldin and senior defender Courtney Robicheaux have been mainstays in a program that has struggled to climb out of the bottom of the SEC. Anagnost has helped transform the program with back-to-back winning seasons. Mauldin said the confidence the players have in one another has helped them raise the level of expectations and the standard for the program.
"Back then, we always said, 'We're going to make it. We're going to make it,' " Mauldin said. "Now we set ourselves up to succeed and make it to the tournament. It feels more real. When we said we were going to make it to the NCAA tournament, we had the players and the coaching staff to do that."
Robicheaux echoed Mauldin's confidence and enthusiasm. She said she couldn't help jumping up, throwing her arms in the air and screaming when she saw Mississippi State come up on the screen.
"It's a really good feeling because so much hard work has been put in to this team for the past four years," Robicheaux said. "Now, history has been made, and it has paid off. It's a huge pat on the back. I'm just thankful for everyone on this team and the staff, everyone who has helped make this dream a possibility."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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