The Ole Miss Rebels ended the Vanderbilt Commodores’ 16 game unbeaten run with a 1-0 victory on Thursday, beating the regular season SEC champions and earning a first-round bye in this weekend’s SEC tournament. The Rebels finished the regular season with 19 points and a conference record of 6-3-1.
“I’m so happy with the team they came out so focused and so hungry, and played a really good game,” head coach Matt Mott said. “Vanderbilt is an excellent team so the way we were able to handle their pressure, score a good goal and then hang on for the last 45 (minutes) was just awesome.”
Haleigh Stackpole got the scoring started early with a free kick from 23 yards out, her fifth goal of the season, in the 12th minute. The free kick came after CeCe Kizer was fouled while going right at the Vanderbilt defense with her dribbling.
“All credit to CeCe for earning that kick, she attacked that defense very well and got the foul,” Stackpole said. “Coach told me to go on the ball, and I figured that the ground was wet so it would skip in, so I just hit it low and hard to the front post, and it ended up working.”
Freshman goalkeeper Morgan McAslan made a crucial save when Vanderbilt got into an excellent scoring position minutes after the Rebel’s goal.
McAslan was called into action again when a ball whipped into the box looking to connect with a Vanderbilt forward, but she was able to punch the cross away to keep the game at 1-0 going into halftime.
The Rebels held on to the 1-0 lead in the second half and saw the result through to the end.
Thursday was senior night and potentially the last home game for six Ole Miss players. Mary Kate Smith is one of the seniors who has started almost every game this season. She said beating the SEC champions is quite the way to end a regular season career.
“Thinking about this being your last time stepping out on this field with these girls and this program is huge, so at the beginning, it was pretty emotional for everyone, but we fed all those emotions into the game,” Smith said.
Senior goalkeeper Marnie Merritt couldn’t play in Thursday’s game because of an injury that ended her season early. Kizer made it clear that while this was an emotional night for her, she wanted to make sure Merritt got to watch a Rebel victory.
“It’s a whirlwind of emotions, but for me I just wanted to come out here and lay it all out on the field,” Kizer said. “Today I was especially playing for Marnie. My heart breaks for her, but every game out here is for her now, and especially tonight because this is a huge victory tonight.”
This was the third straight win for the Rebels, and they are heading into the SEC tournament with momentum and are looking to keep this run going. Mott was proud of how the team rallied around the seniors in these last few performances.
“The seniors are our heartbeat with our team, and we’re going as they’re going,” Mott said. “Our guys don’t want (the season) to end and are fighting like crazy for them, and that certainly puts us in a good spot going forward.”