MSU soccer looks to take next step with program

MSU soccer coach Tom Anagnost

Staff Writer

Last season is still very fresh on the minds of those within the Mississippi State soccer program.

On many levels, it was a successful year. Head coach Tom Anagnost, in his first year with the team, led the Bulldogs to their first winning season since 2009 and best winning percentage since 2001.

However as MSU held its first day of practice for the upcoming season on Tuesday, the quest began to achieve what the Bulldogs didn’t last year and in fact, never have – reach the NCAA Tournament.

“Last year was definitely heartbreaking,” senior Courtney Robicheaux said. “We were so close and we were a great team. This year, it’s more like, ‘I know how that felt and it didn’t feel good, so I’ll do anything to go to the tournament this year and win the games that we need to win.’”

As Robicheaux’s statements indicate, there’s a hunger within the MSU program. There’s a desire to take it to the next step. Perhaps more than anything, there’s now a confidence within the Bulldogs that they can get the job done.

“We just know what we’re capable of,” senior Carly Mauldin said. “Just the little things, if we can take care of those during the season, we wouldn’t even have to worry about needing to win those last games at the end of the year to make (the tournament). We know what it takes now. I think we have the players to do so. The hunger is real.”

At the center of MSU’s belief for 2018 is Anagnost. He took over the Bulldog soccer program after the 2016 season and immediately helped State finish with its highest RPI in program history at No. 39 in 2017. Mississippi State was competitive in every single match of the season, ending the year 9-5-4 and never losing by more than one goal.

Anagnost has worked diligently to instill a winning mindset in his players – not just on game days either. Anagnost continually keeps what he labels a “competitive Bulldog chart” that ranks his entire roster in a number of different categories. The chart allows team members to see where they stand on certain skills in relation to their teammates.

“We measure and record everything,” Anagnost said. “We rank all the student-athletes in all these categories. It’s really good for developing players because they know where they stand in all we hold dear, but to be honest, it’s far deeper than that.

“What the competitive chart measures is character traits. What are those character traits? There’s a million of them – persistence, perseverance, resilience, hard work, mental toughness, desire, dedication, grit – I can go on and on. All those character traits are traits of winners. To me, because we keep score, there’s a winner and there’s a loser. We’re teaching ourselves to win every day.”

While Anagnost is hopeful the method is teaching his players to win on the pitch, it’s also his desire that it’s bettering them for things larger than soccer.

“They’re hardening themselves,” Anagnost said. “They are becoming a better version of themselves.

“To me, preparing them for the rest of their lives, that’s an enormous thing.”

Mauldin sees incredible benefit in Anagnost’s competitive chart. She thinks it’s a big reason why MSU is geared up for a big year ahead.

“(The chart) shows you who wants it and who doesn’t,” Mauldin said. “Every training session is all about winning.”

Now, the Bulldogs just need that winning mindset to transfer over to the matches themselves. Mississippi State proved last year it could hang with anyone, but this season, it's hopeful for more. Being competitive isn’t good enough.

It won’t be easy. This is a new team. The Bulldogs lost a pair of players from last year’s squad that are nearly irreplaceable. Gone is Catalina Perez, the goalkeeper who became Mississippi State’s first-ever All-American.
Gone, too, is Mallory Eubanks, who was an All-Southeast Region second team midfielder.

“This year, it’s just different,” Anagnost said. “Every year is different. Last year, we had the two best players on the field almost every game, so 20 percent of the matchups we won. That’s a big deal. (Last year), we didn’t have that many players that could contribute at a high level though. (This year), we definitely have far more kids that are more competitive. We’re just a deeper team. There are just more kids that can do it.”

Anagnost is hopeful his club’s depth might be MSU’s ticket to its first-ever NCAA Tournament. If it happens, it would be a fitting second part for Bulldog soccer’s Anagnost era.

Last year’s group was just so close. This year’s unit wants to finally break on through to the other side.

“That team last year had 10 seniors that were just fed up with losing,” Anagnost said. “They just did everything they could to not do that. They killed themselves. If this team can do that, and lead like that, we’re going to be great. If we have strong leadership and we’re a tough team, we’ll be fine.”