STARKVILLE — The journey began once the final whistle sounded at MSU Soccer Field last season.
Mississippi State walked off the pitch a winner against Ole Miss, a dramatic 3-2 victory that saw goalkeeper Maddy Anderson score the winning penalty with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs knew they wouldn’t be one of the 64 teams selected for the 2021 NCAA tournament, but on the day the bracket was revealed, preparations began to be one of those 64 in 2022.
Hard work in the summer and during the preseason paid off, and this year, Mississippi State compiled a 11-5-4 record in a history-making season that now sees the No. 7-seeded Bulldogs host New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 3 p.m. Friday.
“In the summer, you could tell that the players were ready to take the next step,” Mississippi State head coach James Armstrong said. “The vibe in the locker room, the team culture took a massive step in a positive direction.”
“For our name to come up yesterday, hosting, getting the opportunity to play in front of our fans, we wanted another opportunity to play in front of them. Friday at 3 o’clock, we get that.”
MSU has battled through much adversity as much as any other team in the country and maybe even more so than some.
A number of injuries decimated the team as the year went on — injuries to starters and all-Southeastern Conference selections like Anderson, defender Andrea Tyrrell, midfielder Ally Perry and more.
However, while this team could have wavered in the face of adversity, the Bulldogs more than stepped up to the challenge with a cast of young players and those who got significant playing time for the first time in their MSU careers.
“I don’t think anybody can quite realize unless they were actually in our group of the amount of adversity and disappointment that we’ve had to deal with along the way,” Armstrong said. “Even with big wins, there was always some kind of setback. I’ve never known a group like this…I just feel an immense sense of pride for the process that we’ve gone through.”
Freshmen Maggie Wadsworth and Alivia Buxton put in great seasons, with Wadsworth in particular leading the team in goals with seven, cracking the top five for most goals scored as a freshman in program history.
In the place of Anderson stepped Mac Titus, who has found her spot on this team and has really gelled well with the entirety of the squad as a starter.
New players came in on defense, younger players stepped up in the midfield and in forward roles, and things, while at times they seemed dark, always found a silver lining.
“When injuries happen, it’s hard to get those girls to have the same mentality as the people who are on the field,” midfielder Alyssa D’Aloise said. “I think that’s what’s been different, even from what we experienced in 2020, is keeping everyone on the same page. That’s something that we’ve done a really good job of.”
MSU has really experienced everything on the spectrum this season: a program-record 12-match unbeaten streak to begin the season, three-straight wins to begin conference play, a statement win over Arkansas in the SEC opener, two wins from its final nine matches.
MSU also secured its SEC tournament win in program history, a 2-1 extra-time victory over Texas A&M as Jojo Ngongo scored the game-winner.
The Bulldogs have ridden the roller coaster that is their 2022 season, and now, after all of that, they get to host an NCAA tournament game on Friday afternoon.
“We all have an underdog mentality, so we have the grind and resilience that comes with that,” defender Gwen Mummert said. “When we have a setback, we just keep going. It’s been really fun to see everyone put their best foot forward, take the opportunities they have and play well.”
The countdown has begun to a match MSU is highly anticipating.
Soccer has arrived in Starkville, and the Bulldogs are here to make sure it stays for a long, long time.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.