Mississippi State assistant women’s soccer coach Josh Rife sent Lipscomb coach Kevin O’Brien a prescient text message after the Lady Bisons defeated North Alabama for the ASUN championship on Nov. 3.
“Hope we don’t have to play you guys in the NCAA’s,” Rife wrote O’Brien.
As luck would have it, Lipscomb and Mississippi State were paired as first-round opponents for the NCAA tournament last week.
And Rife, who played with O’Brien on the USL’s Charlotte Eagles the early 2000s, was certainly on to something with his hunch about the strength of the Lady Bisons.
“It was really ironic and funny,” O’Brien said of the message and the draw. “And obviously, it turned out to be great.”
Lipscomb used an unlikely free kick from midfield to shock Mississippi State with 1-0 upset in the final minute of Golden Goal overtime last Friday. The victory advanced the Lady Bisons (15-4-2) to a second-round date with Duke on Friday morning in Washington, D.C.
“The moment was kind of surreal,” O’Brien said. “We had kind of set our lineup for penalty kicks. You’re thinking with a minute on the clock [that] you’re definitely going into the penalty [kicks].”
On the free kick, Lipscomb defender Dominique Diller sent a prayer into the box from midfield, hoping for a lucky bounce.
The ball ricocheted off the head of Lipscomb Justis Bailey and to the foot of Kaitlin Echols, who quickly touched the ball into the back of the net, although Bailey was initially credited with the goal.
“Kaitlin actually got a flick on it,” O’Brien said. “You can see if you watch the video back, and we’ve watched it so many times. And she confirmed it, too.”
The goal set off a wild on-field celebration for the Lady Bisons, who became Lipscomb’s first team in any sport to advance past the first round of an NCAA tournament.
“We were like, ‘this is happening!’” junior forward Olivia Doak said. “Everyone was just crying. We didn’t know what else to really do. We were just so excited and overwhelmed [with joy].”
With the historic upset in the rearview, Lipscomb now faces a tougher test in the second round. Duke (15-3-2) entered the tournament as the ninth-best team in the nation and shut out Rutgers, 1-0, in the first round.
“It’s a different kind of game in the ACC,” O’Brien said. “The [conference] is much more technical and savvy, and more possession oriented. They’re really unlike any team that we’ve played this year.”
The Blue Devils are also likely to have a chip on their shoulder after losing a heartbreaking national semifinal match to UCLA in penalty kicks last year.
“It’ll be a totally different style of play, a totally different matchup,” Doak said of the Blue Devils. “But I’m confident that we can play with anyone, and soccer’s a crazy sport, so you never know what’s going to happen.”
O’Brien said that his team has embraced the “underdog” mentality in recent weeks, and that mindset appears to be paying dividends. The Lady Bisons are amid a seven-game winning streak heading into Friday’s match.
“We’re the underdog, so there’s no pressure,” O’Brien said. “We can just go out and enjoy the game and compete in freedom. That’s been part of our recipe – we’ve really enjoyed and embraced these moments.”
It remains to be seen whether that mentality will hold up against one of the nation’s premier programs, but Doak said Lipscomb doesn’t have anything to lose.
“We have nothing to lose but everything to gain,” she said. “We’re playing [with] freedom and with confidence.”
Photo courtesy of the ASUN Conference