STARKVILLE — Accountability is paramount in college soccer.
With limited time for coaches to whip players into shape and to build team chemistry, fitness is a given. Newcomers receive a conditioning plan in the spring and are trusted to follow it so they are ready when they report to school, while returning players often spend one or two summer semesters on campus to train and to take classes. That time gives the veterans access to top-notch facilities and provides plenty of motivation when they compete with teammates.
But neither situation ensures a player will be in the best shape possible — unless you”re talking about Madison McKee and Morganne Grimes.
Last season, McKee and Grimes were two of only four players on the Mississippi State soccer team who played in all 20 games. Grimes” first season at MSU was even more impressive considering she played in 1,724 of the team”s 1,812 minutes.
As MSU inches closer to the start of its two-a-day training Saturday and its season opener, McKee and Grimes have learned from the 2010 season and feel they and their teammates are in even better condition.
“I am more confident in this team,” said McKee, who was voted one of three team captains with Grimes and senior Kim Pettit. “I remember one practice in July as a team we got on the line and helped somebody run. Ever since then, I feel we”re closer as a team.”
MSU is coming off an 8-12 season in which it went 1-10 in the Southeastern Conference. The 2011 squad is smaller (22 players) than in past years, and coach Neil Macdonald feels the players are more committed to soccer. He said coaches challenged the players in the offseason to raise their level of performance and everyone responded, especially McKee and Grimes.
“Morganne is a top player, so we expected her to come in (and contribute right away),” Macdonald said. “She came in and did a great job at center back and played almost every minute of every game. She will lead the back line for sure this year.
“Madison brings a lot to the table. She is just such a competitor. We expected them to play a lot of minutes, and we expect them to play a lot of minutes again this year.”
McKee said the players had to pass two of three phases of a fitness test at the end of July to be able to play. The test includes a timed mile run, a beep test, and a series of 10 sprints. The players” workout plan also includes weight training.
McKee, a 5-foot-9 midfielder from Clinton, said it didn”t feel like she played 1,488 minutes, which was fourth most on the team behind midfielder Jasmine Simmons (1,559) and goalkeeper Skylar Rosson (1,512). She finished the season tied for fourth in scoring with three goals and seven points. As a freshman, she started seven of 17 games and played 957 minutes.
Grimes, a 5-5 defender from Fayetteville, Ga., was a standout at Whitewater High School (Ga.). She said it kind of feel like she played nearly every minute last season, and that the workload aggravated a knee surgery she had a couple of years ago. The pain in her knee made her realize she didn”t know how hard she was pushing herself.
“I just wasn”t used to playing college sports because it started hurting,” Grimes said of her knee.
This year, Grimes said trained what she thought was hard at home before arriving in Starkville in the middle of July. But she discovered when she attempted her first timed run there was a big difference between being in shape and being in shape.
“I remember doing one of our test things that didn”t have a time limit and timing myself and thinking, ”OK, I think these are good times,” ” Grimes said. “Then we came here and ran the sprint series and we did have times and my times weren”t those times. It definitely was an eye-opener because even though I have been here for a year I thought I was in shape but I found out I had work to do.”
McKee and Grimes have helped Bulldogs re-focus on their conditioning. They credited new strength and conditioning coach Brian Neal for pushing the team to a higher fitness level.
“I am kind of excited for two-a-days to show the coaches what we can do,” Grimes said. “I am not excited to do it, but to have the coaches see us and to see how far we have come.”
MSU will play host to Samford at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 in an exhibition match. It will open the season at 2 p.m. Aug. 21 at Arkansas State. MSU will play its first five matches on the road before its home opener at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 against the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Macdonald is confident McKee and Grimes will be ready for two-a-days and will be leaders who will help the Bulldogs more competitive in SEC play.
“They both are incredibly dedicated and fit 12 months out of the year,” Macdonald said. “If you give them a mark they”re going to hit it. From a fitness perspective they will come in again very well prepared for two-a-days. They”re model student-athletes, and they are very similar in personality and in their approach to everything. They try to do everything as well as they can.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.