STARKVILLE — Danielle Kite has played just about everywhere in her Mississippi State career.
As a senior, Kite will be the centerpiece in the Bulldogs” attack.
In an effort to generate more offense, MSU coach Neil Macdonald moved a player he considers the “best right back in the conference” to center forward, allowing last year”s goal leader Kat Walsh to operate on the left.
Kite”s nose for goal or experience playing forward didn”t sway Macdonald. Instead, her athleticism and technical ability prompted the switch.
One game into the 2010 season, the 5-foot-4 player from Hornchurch, England, already has shown the move can help the Bulldogs. In a 2-1 win against the University of Tennessee-Martin on Friday, Kite scored her first goal since 2008 off a rebound shot from a tight angle.
The victory against the reigning Ohio Valley Conference champion was a positive way to start the season, and the fact Kite scored in the win gives Macdonald confidence in the new three-striker attack.
“The goal was a half chance she got on the end of,” Macdonald said. “She has the tools necessary to play that role for us. What you”re looking for is a player who can take on people one-vs.-one and play with their back to goal. She provides that for us.”
Kite will try to provide more of that scoring punch at 7 p.m. Friday when MSU plays host to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in its home opener.
Kite”s role is vital considering the lack of proven attacking options on the bench and Macdonald”s decision to give freshman Elisabeth Sullivan a place in the starting 11 as the right-side forward.
No pressure, right?
Kite admits there”s little on her mind besides helping the Bulldogs clinch a spot in the eight-team Southeastern Conference tournament. MSU hasn”t accomplished that feat since 2004.
One of five seniors on the roster, Kite knows this is the final chance for most of the upperclasswomen to finish their careers with their best season.
For the Bulldogs to consider clinching a spot in the league tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., they must find the back of the net against conference opponents. Last season, SEC teams outscored MSU 23-6. The Bulldogs also suffered three one-goal losses.
And while Kite feels playing in a true attacking formation with Sullivan”s speed and Walsh”s finishing will produce goals in SEC play, she feels there is a cloud of uncertainty rooted in the team”s recent struggles in front of goal.
“You always think back to previous experiences and what the team has been like,” Kite said. “But we should take this opportunity to play our own game and get past that. We think too much about our opposition and where they”re ranked. That affects your confidence. But if we battle hard and focus like we did last year against Florida and South Carolina, we”ll produce more goals.”
MSU tied Florida and South Carolina 1-1 in double overtime in back-to-back games in October en route to a 9-8-2 finish (1-8-2 in SEC).
In an effort to forget about past scoring issues, Kite is transitioning from a defensive-minded player to one who carries the weight of scoring and distributing in the final third.
As a freshman, she brought a strong skill-set and understanding of the game, but lacked the full-time training environment and the drive to train to reach a level of soccer she hadn”t experienced in England.
Kite remembers the sparse, parent-laden crowds at games back home, as women”s soccer was considered an afterthought to the men”s game. So while 500 people showing up for a soccer game is considered a small crowd in America, it felt like 50,000 to Kite, who said playing in front of a crowd was an adjustment she didn”t anticipate.
To Kite, the more people that showed up, the more expectations she believed she needed to live up to.
“You grow into work hard and pushing yourself every day when you know there”s going to be people cheering for you at every game,” Kite said. “My work ethic and fitness are the two things that have improved since I”ve been here, and that”s helped the younger players see how they have to train.”
Kite and Macdonald rate the team”s performance against UT-Martin as acceptable. The play between the three forwards and midfielders will take time to perfect. Kite hopes MSU can put it together in time for the start of SEC play Sept. 24 at Auburn.
“Scoring goals has never been my strength, so I”ve got to focus on being a playmaker,” Kite said. “If that means putting the ball through for someone else to score, that”s what it will take. But for me to get to that point and for us to be clicking, it”s going to take a few games. And when you have freshmen, it”s hard to jell without playing good opposition.
“It may take more than three games to get to there, but that”s why we have these non-conference games. When we all get on the same page, get used to each other”s movement and how the ball is played from one another, you”ll see a difference.”
n NOTE: With the renovation to the MSU Soccer Field nearly complete, Macdonald is unsure if his team will play Friday on the new surface.
Rain and a cramped work schedule didn”t allow the new sod for the field to be laid down until earlier this week. Macdonald said Wednesday he didn”t know if it will hold for a training session, a game Friday and a game at 1 p.m. Sunday against Southern Miss.
“I”ll need to talk with our grounds crew to get their advice, but it”s very close,” Macdonald said. “I”ll probably walk it tomorrow and (we) may have a training session tomorrow afternoon. I think there”s a chance.”
If the field isn”t playable, MSU will move its games to the Starkville Sportsplex, where it has trained this preseason.