STARKVILLE — Steve Holeman”s return to the state he called home for 15 years wasn”t a scoreless endeavor.
Alexa Newfield, Jamie Pollock, and Laura Eddy made sure of that with goals Sunday to help the No. 18 University of Georgia women”s soccer team to a 3-0 victory against Mississippi State at the MSU Soccer Field.
Newfield and Pollock scored goals in the first half to help lift Georgia, which was coming off a scoreless overtime tie against the University of Mississippi on Friday night, to 8-2-4 and 3-0-3 in the Southeastern Conference, while MSU slipped to 7-8 and 0-6.
Holeman was the first coach in Ole Miss women”s soccer history, and he spent 15 years at the school building the program into a perennial contender in the SEC. His decision to move east put him in charge of another team that year in and year out is at the top of the conference.
“Things have been great,” said Holeman, who took Ole Miss to four NCAA tournaments. “I am enjoying Athens after being in Oxford for 15 years. Family is in and the team has been awesome. I am glad I am in Athens.”
On Sunday, Georgia showed why it will be one of the challengers for the SEC crown as it controlled play and held a 26-6 edge in shots. The effort came after a season-high 29 shots resulted only in helping Ole Miss goalkeeper Sarah Story make a school-record 17 saves Friday. The three-goal output erased a stretch in which Georgia had scored just three goals in its previous five matches.
MSU goalkeeper Skylar Rosson, who matched a career-high with 12 saves Friday in an overtime loss to Tennessee, made nine saves against Georgia and easily was her team”s finest performer.
MSU”s effort disappointed coach Neil McDonald, whose team has scored only two goals in SEC play.
In McDonald”s defense, MSU still isn”t at 100 percent. Injuries recently forced McDonald to switch from a 4-3-3 back to a 4-2-2. On Sunday, Kat Walsh and Rachel Wannek, two of the team”s top offensive weapons, played but showed they still aren”t at full strength. The Bulldogs also were without midfielder Lauren Morgan, a player McDonald feels would make a significant impact in the center of the field.
“Missing Lauren in the middle is killing us,” McDonald said. “Kat has been at 50-60 percent all year, and she missed all of preseason. Rachel has a high ankle sprain and is not moving well, so we”re asking (freshman Elisabeth) Sullivan, who is doing great, to step up and she is struggling a little bit with it.”
Sullivan leads MSU in scoring with four goals and 12 points, while Wannek is second with four goals and 11 points. Walsh, who led the team with nine goals and 19 points last season, has one goal this season.
McDonald also pointed to other ailments to Danielle Kite, who played only 30 minutes, and Leanna Baldner (knee) that have limited MSU”s effectiveness and depth. As a result, he thought his team “didn”t have the legs” to duplicate a solid effort against Tennessee.
Georgia owned the midfield, taking advantage of a defense that gave it space and sunk back into the box in an attempt to limit chances. The strategy made it difficult for Georgia to find openings, but Holeman”s team worked the ball wide and used the individual skills of Eddy, who started on the right side at forward and then moved to the other side in the second half, and others to get a win that made the return home a little sweeter.
“They put me out there and said, ”One vs. one, get to goal, and get crosses,” ” said Eddy, a midfielder, who assisted on Newfield”s goal with a cross from the right side. “We focused all Saturday on crossing, finishing, and capitalizing on our opportunities. That already was in everyone”s heads going into the game. It was just a matter of doing it.”
MSU will play host to Arkansas (7 p.m. Friday) and to LSU (1 p.m. Sunday) this weekend.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.