MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On a cool Sunday night in Memphis, Ole Miss soccer battled to a decisive 1-0 victory over the Memphis Tigers. A cohesive team effort and a little individual magic helped the Rebels find their seventh win of the season in the Volunteer State.
Throughout the low-scoring affair, veteran goalkeeper Marnie Merritt commanded a staunch backline that has conceded just a single goal this season.
“We know how Memphis plays; we are right down the road,” Merritt said. “Our biggest weakness against them has always been free kicks and set pieces so we really worked on those aspects of our game, and the defense did an incredible job sacrificing their bodies and keeping it an easy night for me.”
The Tigers managed six shots on the night, and only a handful made it past the backline, making a relatively quiet night for Merritt.
“Liza (Harbin) and I have been together for a long time,” Merritt said. “Ella, Grace and Sophie have come in and just been absolutely big time, and it has been so awesome to see how the back four has held together so far.”
The junior goalkeeper also attributed some of the team’s defensive success to its front line players. On Sunday, Ole Miss defended as a unit and confronted Memphis deep in its own half, effectively locking the Tigers into a defensive stance.
In the 43rd minute, the Rebels broke the deadlock in style. Freshman striker Channing Foster struck a frozen rope into the top right corner from 35 yards out – not bad for her first rivalry match.
“Nothing compares to the environment,” Foster said. “You get out here, and your adrenaline just takes over, and it’s crazy. At one point, the people in the stands were just going crazy, and I had no idea until someone said so at halftime.”
Foster’s goal arrived thanks to an assist from fellow forward Cece Kizer, who was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2015.
“Defenders all swarm to her,” Foster said. “It helps open up lanes, and she was able to feed me a good ball that we scored on. They know who she is so they swarm. It makes it way easier on (the rest of the team).”
Kizer draws defenders like a magnet. She often finds herself double- or even triple-teamed. This, in turn, opens up space for Kizer’s fellow teammates. That might explain why Kizer’s assist rate ranks among the highest in the nation.
“I don’t allow the outside environment to get inside my head, and Memphis is such a battle every time we play them,” Kizer said. “It’s about being mentally composed. You are the only one that can influence how you play. I just try to go out and do what I do on the field.”
Winning tough games away from home can influence how players perform in later matches, and Kizer said she is impressed with how her team performed on the road.
“I definitely consider it a rivalry game,” Kizer said. “It’s always really competitive, and it’s great to get a win like this before heading to Florida. It just gives a boost of confidence to know that we can compete with good teams like this and put goals away.”
The Rebels next head to Gainesville, Florida on Thursday, for a conference matchup against a talented Gator squad. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.