The Lipscomb women’s soccer team patiently waited to learn its fate for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance Monday afternoon at a watch party in the Allen Arena Hall of Fame room.
As luck would have it, the Lady Bisons (14-4-2) were paired with another NCAA first-timer in Mississippi State (9-6-2). The first-round match is set for Friday at 4 p.m. in Starkville.
“It’s going to be a difficult game, but I’m excited about the opportunity to travel,” Lipscomb coach Kevin O’Brien said. “We thought we might get Vanderbilt and that would’ve been a great game, but I know the girls really were excited about being able to get on the road and get the [full] NCAA postseason tournament experience.”
The two teams have a history – Lipscomb went to Starkville and emerged with a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs on August 26, 2016. Ellen Lundy scored the lone tally in the 16th minute and goalie Anna Buhigas made nine saves to preserve the win.
“We know Mississippi State and played them a couple years ago,” O’Brien said. “I’m actually friends with their coaching staff a little bit. They’re going to be motivated.”
Lipscomb junior forward and 2018 ASUN Player of the Year Olivia Doak is one of seven current Lady Bisons that played in the 2016 match at Mississippi State. The nine-goal scorer said that experience should be a confidence booster for Lipscomb.
“I remember their environment being really crazy,” Doak said. “Knowing that we won on [their] field before is good to have in the back of our minds.”
Lipscomb clinched an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by defeating Florida Gulf Coast by a score of 1-0 in the ASUN semifinals. The Lady Bisons went on to beat North Alabama in the ASUN title game, but the Lions were not eligible for the postseason in their first year as a Division I program.
“I think [having the bid clinched] gave us the ability to play [free] and less frantic in the championship,” Doak said. “We knew that we still wanted to win, because we were sick and tired of losing three years in a row.”
Mississippi State went 7-0 in non-conference play but finished just 2-6-2 in SEC action. Meanwhile, the Lady Bisons have a 3-9-2 all-time record against SEC opponents after topping Kentucky 2-1 on Sept. 16.
“I think people look at the [Mississippi State] record and they’re not seeing the quality,” O’Brien said of the Bulldogs. “[But] they’re incredibly talented – one of the best [teams] in the country – but so are we.”
Photos by McKenzi Harris