The Ole Miss Rebels had their SEC home opener versus the Tennessee Volunteers on Thursday night. Unfortunately, Ole Miss was unable to come away with a victory, losing 2-0.
Tennessee put the Rebels under a lot of pressure in the opening half. After their first shot, a near-miss, the Rebels struggled to maintain possession and create chances. Tennessee dominated the opening half, and the Rebels never really got going.
Tennessee’s first goal came from a follow-up shot in the 22nd minute, after senior goalkeeper Marnie Merritt saved the initial effort. Ole Miss really struggled to keep the ball, consistently losing possession during its attempts to push the ball forward.
The Rebels only had two clear-cut chances in the half. The first was a free kick by freshman Haleigh Stackpole that forced the Vols’ keeper to make a tremendous save. The second shot came as time expired, when senior CeCe Kizer played a through ball to redshirt freshman Sydney Michalak, who shot it right at the Volunteer goalkeeper.
Merritt was busy in the first half, making save after save to keep the Rebels in the game. The Volunteers had 12 total shots in the half, outshooting the Rebels by 10.
Following halftime, Ole Miss head coach Matt Mott made some tactical changes to the offense, which came in the form of keeping Kizer higher up the pitch in the second half.
“I stayed a little bit higher in the second half because we weren’t creating enough and didn’t have enough numbers going forward, so I tried my best to stay in the box more,” Kizer said.
Merritt came up with her fifth and sixth saves of the game in quick succession, only 10 minutes into the second half. She had to fully extend for the first shot, which was heading into the upper corner of the goal, before quickly getting down for the second shot, a near-post effort off the rebound.
The defense did a good job of containing two of the best forwards in the SEC, holding Tennessee to eight shots on target.
“They’ve got speed, and they’re big. So we just said, ‘We’ve got to drop early and stay with them,’” Merritt said.
Kizer created another opportunity for Ole Miss off the bounce of a free kick by feeding junior Gabby Little a shot, but the shot went straight to the keeper, who easily corralled it. Sophomore Channing Foster had an excellent one-on-one shot saved with 20 minutes left in the game. The Rebel offense looked much better in the second half, putting up 11 shots and forcing the Vols’ keeper to make four saves.
After an incredibly hot start to the season, Ole Miss has struggled offensively, only scoring once in its last three games. The loss versus Tennessee marks the first time this season the Rebels have lost back-to-back games.
“We’re a little snakebit right now, but we’ll come out on the other side of it for sure,” Mott said.