Freshman forward Mo O’Connor began her first season at Ole Miss with a bang, as she started and scored in the season opener, a 2-0 victory over North Alabama.
A pass from Jillian Rhian across the post found O’Connor, who sent a dribbler toward the goal with her left foot. The ball went past the North Alabama keeper, but hit the post. The ball bounced back to the freshman, allowing her to sink the rebound and claim her first points as a Rebel.
“Luckily (the ball) bounced off the post, so I just got lucky and finished it off,” O’Connor said, “but it was nice to be able to get that first goal. It calmed my nerves a lot.”
O’Connor’s success at the college level is an immense source of pride for the university and its soccer team, but her success is also special for many in the community because of her connections to Oxford.
After moving from Bartlett, Tennessee when she was 12 years old, she quickly became a local star at Oxford High School, where she had a stellar high school career capped off by being named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year last spring. After spending her middle school and high school years growing up and playing soccer around Oxford, O’Connor smiled when talking about her time there.
“I like being in a smaller town,” O’Connor said. “It’s a close-knit community.”
While at Oxford High, O’Connor formed a strong bond with her coach, Hunter Crane, the 2017 Mississippi Association of Coaches’ Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year.
“He’s like a dad to me,” O’Connor said. “He always asks about practice, asks about how games are going, so I talk to him all the time.”
Crane was equally complimentary of O’Connor as a player and person.
“She is one of the most dynamic players I’ve ever seen around the net,” Crane said. “She scored 141 goals in her career, and she graduated a year early. I’ve never seen a player that has the ability to score any time she touches the ball, and that’s really what she brings.
“She has such a positive attitude. She’s a great soccer player, but she’s also a great person…for her to be in Oxford, to be at Ole Miss and playing for our hometown team, it’s really, really exciting. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”
O’Connor continues the tradition of local players furthering their careers on the pitch at Ole Miss. Junior forward Alley Houghton and sophomore defender/midfielder Maddy Houghton each attended Lafayette High School, where Alley earned the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year two years before O’Connor, and Maddy starred for Lafayette through her sophomore season before focusing on club soccer.
“We were rivals. Now we’re friends. Now we’re teammates,” O’Connor said about the Houghton sisters and their friendly, welcoming attitude toward her as she joined the team.
O’Connor has started all eight games for the Rebels this season. The Rebels’ 6-2 record in 2019 has been highlighted by two double-overtime wins and a 5-4 comeback win over Murray State. The Rebels fell 2-1 against South Alabama Sunday in their return to Oxford.
The young forward will have a prominent role as the team enters SEC play when Missouri visits Oxford on Friday.
“Especially because I’m a freshman, I wasn’t really expecting to get the playing time that I am, but it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of hard work, and all the teammates are awesome,” O’Connor said.
While O’Connor has not found the back of the net since the season opener, her work on and off the pitch shows as the season continues into September, and she knows she has the support of the city behind her as well as the university.
“I’m definitely still nervous, but it’s been a great experience so far,” she said.