Mississippi State University’s soccer head coach James Armstrong passed the ball out of the back, kicking off the final repetition of practice on Tuesday.
Armstrong’s words of encouragement to the girls rang out over the field as they finished their drill and their preparations for their game against Texas A&M. Armstrong is in his first year coaching the Bulldogs and is about to enter his first SEC season with the team.
Since former head coach Tom Anagnost left for the University of Illinois Chicago and Armstrong was named head coach, the Bulldogs have used their training in the summer and non-conference schedule to prepare for SEC games. While last year was the first time MSU had ever made the NCAA tournament, the team has not reached an SEC tournament since 2004.
“The girls have been working so hard since the first day of preseason,” Armstrong said. “It's the start of a new season now. For us right now, it‘s about focusing on getting better each and every single day. If we are doing that, we will get the results we need to make the SEC tournament, make the NCAA tournament.”
In three of their non-conference games, the Bulldogs lost to ranked opponents. The most recent loss came on Sunday to the Boston College Eagles in a match where MSU had opportunities to score goals, but failed to break through, giving up two goals in the final 30 minutes of the match and losing 2-0 to end the Non-Conference campaign.
The energy of the players did not change as Armstrong said they shifted their focus right to Texas A&M and the SEC season following the loss. The team did not practice Monday, but had practice on Tuesday.
“Anytime you lose a game where you felt you left something on the table, you are looking for a response,” Armstrong said. “That is the one thing guaranteed from this group is that they are all in. They wanted to get back on the field as soon as possible. So, we saw great energy in training today.”
With every coaching change is a slight change to tactics and style of play. Miranda Carrasco, a sophomore defender from Cypress, Texas, said it has been amazing to see the team grow under Armstrong.
With Armstrong, Carasco said she finds excitement from the new coaching staff and the style of play is very effective.
“It is going to be a great year, and there are going to be great years following that,” Carrasco said. “They are definitely coming here and changing the program. We are all going to be a part of a team that makes history. I’m excited for it.”
In the game against Boston College, there was the steady beat of a drum keeping cadence with the cheers and cowbells. That noise may be annoying for some, but Carrasco said an environment like MSU is fun to play in.
“It is so amazing, I love it,” Carrasco said. “It is very loud and it hypes everybody up. It gets everyone going and we hear the drums and it adds a nice touch to the sounds we hear coming from the stands.”
The team is hungry for more postseason games and going places no Bulldog soccer team has ever gone. For instance, the team lost to Lipscomb last year in the first round by a score of 1-0 in extra time. Carrasco said the defeat stung but she believes this team can get to the next round of the NCAA tournament because no one will outwork them.
“We are out here busting our tails off every day,” Carrasco said. "From the results that happened last year, we are super hungry to get into the SEC tournament. Also, the NCAA’s—we want to make obviously. We are hungry this year. We want to get there and we want to do better.”