STARKVILLE — Elisabeth Sullivan isn’t one of those scorers who keeps up with her goals.
In fact, if it wasn’t for a friend at Mississippi State, Sullivan might not have known she tied the school’s single-season mark for goals with her 15th Friday in a loss to Alabama.
The record is one of many the 5-foot-5 senior forward from Memphis, Tenn., has set in her four-year career at MSU. That career will come to an end at 7 tonight when MSU (3-14, 0-10 Southeastern Conference) takes on No. 25 Ole Miss (13-4-2, 6-3-1) in Oxford in a battle for the Magnolia Cup.
A year ago, Sullivan scored two goals, including the golden goal, to lift MSU to a 3-2 victory against Ole Miss. The goal helped Sullivan become the school’s all-time leading goal scorer. With 15 more goals this season, Sullivan enters her final game with 38 goals and 90 points. She also has eight game-winning goals and eight multiple-goal games.
“I would love to beat the record,” Sullivan said. “Tying it just really shows I have accomplished a lot. I think it is awesome and a great honor. I am going to try my best to get it.”
Sullivan’s 38 goals are tied for 13th among active Division I players. Her 90 points are 20th among active players. She broke the school’s career points mark Aug. 25 when she scored two goals against Arkansas State.
Since then, Sullivan has been double- and triple-teamed by opponents who will try anything to take her out of the game.
“She is the player you have to stop on our team, but people still can’t stop her,” Gordon said. “I think it says a lot about our preparation in terms of what we have done beforehand and how we have trained and how we have worked with her. She has always scored goals, but she is doing it in a way and getting free like she has never done before.”
Gordon credits assistant coach Phil Casella for working with Sullivan on an individual basis. He said the work has helped Sullivan raise her level and to attract the attention of professional coaches.
“She has to prove herself and she has to go through that whole process again, but she is now playing at a level that she is at least going to get in to be seen. That is pretty exciting for our program. To have someone play at her level with where we are, that is pretty amazing. She is maybe one of the most respected forwards in our league for what she can do. I have seen goal scorers in our league, but I haven’t seen players in our league who can beat two or three people without blinking an eye.”
Sullivan praised Gordon and his staff for their efforts in transforming the culture in the program. She also said the coaches came in and believed in her and worked with her to improve her game. She said this season has shown her how soccer can be more intense and how there might be opportunities for her to continue playing. However, she said she hasn’t thought about a professional career and won’t consider it until after the season.
“(Thinking about a professional career) hasn’t affected the season,” Sullivan said. “I have tried not to think about that because I wanted to start out this year and do what was best for my team at this moment.”
Sullivan’s thinking could change after professional teams see how they could use a speedy players who makes life 90 minutes of torture for defenders who have to have their heads on a swivel to keep track of Sullivan.
“I try to keep moving and confuse the defense,” Sullivan said. “I do that by making different runs and by witching sides of the field. I try to confuse them as much as I can.”
Looking back on a career filled with scoring exploits, Sullivan said she never imagined she would get a chance to play so much as a freshman. She wound up starting 17 of 20 games and scoring six goals and making five assists. She added five goals and three assists as a sophomore before breaking out last season and scoring 12 goals and adding four assists.
This season, Sullivan feels she has matured as an impact player. She has accomplished that goal by juggling a full academic load that includes doing the student teaching work she needs to complete her degree in elementary education.
Gordon said most players wait until after the season to tackle their student teaching and then use a fifth year to complete their studies. He said it is a tribute to Sullivan that she has been able to succeed in the classroom and play at such a high level on the field. That is just another reason he believes she has the potential to impress a professional coach and to earn an opportunity to keep being a menace to defenders.
“If the weight is on her shoulders, I don’t think she feels it,” Gordon said. “She certainly doesn’t internalize it. In some cases, she doesn’t even realize the pressure, which, to me, is the quality of a great player. There is no pressure to them. They just go out and play hard all of the time.”
Sullivan said she is on track to graduate in May. By then she likely will have made a decision about soccer’s place in her future. Between tonight and May, Sullivan will have plenty of time to decide which path she is going to take.
“I definitely have a lot to think about,” Sullivan said. “Playing soccer year-round and focusing on that sounds great, but I will have to think about it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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