STARKVILLE — Rhylee DeCrane sees an all-around improvement when she assesses her performance through 10 games.
The Mississippi State goalkeeper feels she is doing a good job stopping shots and communicating with her defense. She also believes she has improved her ability to control the goalkeeper’s box and to win crosses.
A few years ago, though, DeCrane never would have imagined she still would be playing soccer. In fact, after not playing nearly at all in the last three years she said she “already had written off soccer was over.”
“I practiced, but it wasn’t like my biggest thing,” DeCrane said. “I was just kind of out there to burn some calories, but when (MSU coach) Tom (Anagnost) came in, there was actual change to do something and to help my team, so every day at practice I worked.”
That work is paying off for DeCrane, who has played all but 7 minutes, 23 seconds of the team’s matches in goal. DeCrane will be in goal at 7 p.m. Friday when MSU, which is also receiving votes in United Soccer Coaches (USC) poll released Tuesday, will play host to Florida (4-6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) at the MSU Soccer Field. The match will be broadcast on SEC Network+.
DeCrane has helped MSU (8-2, 1-2) to one of its best starts in program history. She posted six shutouts in non-conference action and has been solid in SEC matches against then-No. 9 Auburn, then-No. 13 South Carolina, and then-No. 19 Tennessee. The only goal she allowed against South Carolina was a penalty kick. Against Tennessee, DeCrane stopped a PK and took the ball off the feet of a player to prevent another dangerous chance.
“She was fantastic,” Anagnost said. “She was the best player on our team. They generated chances, and to be honest, they could’ve scored more than a goal.”
DeCrane, a redshirt senior from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, made all four of her saves against Tennessee in the second half. For the season, she has 27 saves and has allowed only six goals.
The action is DeCrane’s most since her freshman season, when she played in 16 games (12 starts). She appeared in two games as a sophomore and didn’t play as a junior. She redshirted her senior year behind Catalina Perez, who became the first Bulldog to earn All-America honors (USC third-team honors). Perez made 68 saves and had six shutouts. She allowed only 19 goals and was a primary reason MSU went 9-5-4 and was on the cusp of making the program’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
DeCrane said she wanted to come back for her fifth year to help push MSU back to the SEC tournament for the first time since 2004 and to help it make history and advance to the NCAAs. So far, things are working out. With a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of No. 3, MSU has worked into the national conversation. On Monday, MSU earned its first national ranking when it came in at No. 19 in the TopDrawerSoccer poll.
DeCrane said this year’s team is so different from other MSU teams she has worked with because it is working together “like a good machine.” DeCrane referred to herself as a “cog in the machine” that is helping to propel MSU to its goals.
“It definitely was a want to (come back for her fifth year,” DeCrane said. “I didn’t have to push myself. It would have been easy to say, ‘Ah, we’re done,’ but I realized I wanted to see what could happen if we made it to the NCAA tournament and being with a ranked team. I wanted to bring this program a step higher and see how much we could accomplish.
“If you had talked to me two years ago, I would never talk about soccer outside of practice. It was something I did to pay for my schooling and that was it. It was just one of those jobs. That changed. It started with Cat(alina Perez) because I saw people still loved the sport and why they loved the sport. “Slowly it started to filter back in. … I realized I could be an anchor to my team or I could be one of the balloons that lifts them up to a new area. I want to be that balloon. I want to be that reason to get the team somewhere.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.