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Ole Miss Soccer held a "Dad and Daughter Day" this past Sunday, and it was another special day for superfan Sam Provenza and his daughter Mille Smith. 


Provenza, a World War II veteran who will turn 91 in January, and his daughter have formed a special bond with junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick from both attending mass at the St. John's Catholic Church.


"I met them through church," McCormick said. "I didn't have anyone to go with at 8:30 in the morning, and so they introduced themselves and adopted me as if I was their child. He has really supported me in my sports and academics. He is an amazing man and he has an amazing story in what he has been through in his life, so I am really happy to be a part of their family."


"I'm living with my daughter, and Kelly is good friends with her from church, so I got interested in her, and I started coming to games this year," Provenza said. "I talk to her about the game and everything. She's a fine young lady and has devoted most of her time to charity and trying to get into veterinary school."

 

Provenza has attended every Ole Miss home soccer match this season as he recovers from cancer surgery. It was during that time after surgery that his bond with McCormick grew stronger.


"He just had cancer surgery on Feb. 1 for the left parotid gland," Smith said. "We know Kelly from church, and she would always sit with us, and she came on some really dark days for my dad to cheer him on in his cancer recovery, and he is here to cheer her on for soccer and the rest of the girls."


Provenza and Smith arrived early before kickoff, and then stayed after the match, a 1-1 draw with No. 7 South Carolina. Following her post-match responsibilities, McCormick returned to the bleachers at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium, and visited with them, as she does after every home match.


"That means a lot to me," Provenza said. "She feels like she's one of my daughters. I have three daughters, so she's my fourth daughter."


"It touches me dearly that he would take his time to come watch a game," McCormick said. "He could be doing other things. He has a special place in my heart, so I really enjoy that he's here with me."



After 1-0 win over Vanderbilt the previous week, Ole Miss re-entered the polls at No. 24 and then finished the weekend with four points -- a 1-0 win on the road at No. 25 LSU and a 1-1 tie at home against No. 7 South Carolina.


The Rebels improved to 12-3-2 overall and 5-2-1 in Southeastern Conference play and moved into a three-way tie for fourth place with LSU and South Carolina.


"It's a fantastic weekend for us, and four huge points for the SEC (Tournamnet), and we have to keep rolling," head coach Matt Mott said. "This team believes. That's four games in a row we're unbeaten. We got a big game next Friday. I'm happy with them and the way we're playing and competing and looking forward to the last three."


Against South Carolina on Sunday, Ole Miss fell behind 1-0 after a goal in the sixth minute, but junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick kept it a one-goal game, as she made four save in the first half to get to halftime.


"Without her, we lose that game, 2-0, 3-0, in the first half," Mott said. "They just pounded us. We were able to get into halftime and adjust and come back out with better energy and effort. Kelly was huge."


"I was in the right position in the right time," McCormick said of her six saves in the match. "Coach Rob (Thompson) has really been helping me in practice and we have been simulating some scenarios that would happen in the game, and some of them happened, so I was able to be in the right spot at the right time and make those saves.



A pair of great individual efforts netted the equalizer in the 76th minutes for the Rebels, as sophomore midfielder Jennifer Miller connected with sophomore midfielder Olivia Harrison, who slid the ball past the goalkeeper for her fifth goal of the season.


Already without sophomore defender Samantha Sanders, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season, Ole Miss also suffered injuries to redshirt freshman Georgia Russell and freshman Melissa Capocaccia, who also play on the back line for the Rebels. 


"A couple of ankle injuries," Mott said. "Georgia's is more severe than Melissa's, so we hope they're going to be OK. Georgia is probably going to be out for a while, but I think Melissa will be back, hopefully quickly."


Senior Maddie Cunningham stepped up and logged 46 minutes off the bench in their place and then nearly gave Ole Miss a 2-1 lead late in the second half, but her shot from way, way out hit off the top of the goal. 


"They're playing so hard and battling," said Mott of the back line. "I'm proud of every one of them. And Kelly is doing fantastic for us. That's keeping us in games that we would have lost in the past. It's keeping us winning and tying and keeping us going toward our goals."


"I was really disappointed we kept injured in the back, but Maddie Cunningham stepped it up and made some really good tackles and plays, so we're really happy with her performance," McCormick said.


The Rebels carry their fourth-match unbeaten streak into another split home-away weekend, on the road at SEC-leading Texas A&M on Friday, then back at home against Alabama on Sunday. 


"I think we're right there," said Mott of NCAA Tournament consideration, "Our RPI is good. We have good games left. If we can take care of business, I think we have a good chance of getting an (NCAA Tournament) bid."



Senior forward Mandy McCalla netted the game-winner, as Ole Miss improved to 11-3-1 and 4-2 in SEC play with a 1-0 win over Vanderbilt on Friday night. The defense, led by junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick, posted its seventh shutout of the season.


"It's a really good win for us," head coach Matt Mott said. "Defensively, we played really well against three great forwards on Vanderbilt. And then we created a lot on the other side. We couldn't get them to go in, but we created a lot, which was important.


"I'm proud of the way we battled and fought and kept them off the board, and then Mandy got a good goal for us. I'm happy with what we created. Some nights they go in, some nights they don't. Tonight, we hit too many posts and too many at the keeper."


Ole Miss outshot Vanderbilt 30-5 but did not find the back of net until the 58th minute when McCalla scored her 11th goal of the season off a deflection from a shot by sophomore midfielder Jennifer Miller.


"All of us tonight hit every single part of the goal except the back of the net," McCalla said. "We had a lot of opportunities to be creative and attack them, and then to score one, it was relieving."


"It was huge to settle the game down a little bit for us," Mott said. "We were pressing and pressing and pressing. A lot of times you get out of that first half and you haven't scored a goal and you had some good chances, you start to get tighter, so Mandy did a good job of finishing that off for us and getting us a lead and then we could settle down and continue to play."


Sophomore Jessica Hiskey, who started all 22 games on the backline for the Rebels last year, got the start in place of sophomore Samantha Sanders, who suffered a knee injury in last Sunday's 3-1 win over Georgia. She and her teammates helped shutout Vanderbilt for just the second time this season.


"I was a little nervous coming in, just this week being back in the starting lineup, but I was really prepared and look forward to working hard in the coming weeks," Hiskey said. "My teammates gave me confidence that I could come in and do well and kept me upbeat during the game."


"She was a left back for us last year, and then we moved her into the center tonight," Mott said. "She fought like crazy. She's one of the toughest kids on our team. Her effort in there tonight was just awesome for her first start after the injury and then play 90 minutes, I'm just really happy with her."


After a week off, the Rebels return to the pitch for a split home-and-away weekend against two of the top teams in the SEC. They travel to Baton Rouge to take on conference leader LSU on Friday, then return home for a match against No. 13 South Carolina on Sunday.


"I like where we are," Mott said. "We're doing a good job defensively and in the attack. I like the way we're playing and excited about these last five matches."

Rebels Bounce Back In 7-0 Win Over Auburn


Coming off a 4-1 loss to No. 7 Florida on Friday night, No. 24 Ole Miss scored two goals in the first five minutes and went on to win 7-0 over Auburn on Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Bethany Bunker netted a pair of goals to give her a hat trick for the weekend, and five goals for the season, including the first goal of Sunday's game.


Junior Kelly McCormick made three saves, as Ole Miss recorded its sixth shutout of the season. Offensively, along with Bunker, senior Mandy McCalla added two goals, giving her nine for the season, while sophomore Olivia Harrison, senior Emily Reid and freshman Addie Forbus rounded out the scoring for the Rebels.


"They just moved the ball so great, and really, Bethany and Rafa were great early, getting in and getting around the corner, and putting the ball in dangerous spots," head coach Matt Mott said. "It was a complete team win. We were very good and organized in the back.


"We had tons of energy. This team, they have great character, and they want to get out and play well at home. They weren't happy after Friday, so they came out with something to prove. They knocked in those couple early goals and settled themselves down. I'm certainly happy with their performance."


At 9-2-1 through 12 games, it's the third-best start in program history, its best since 2003, when Ole Miss advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time in program history. Next weekend, the Rebels hit the road for two road games against two team currently just outside the top 25 in Tennessee and Georgia.


"We expect tough games," Mott said of next weekend's games. "Every SEC road game is really tough. We will have to come ready to go on Friday against Tennessee."



Rebels Pitch Shutout In Rivalry Match


The Ole Miss soccer team completed the weekend sweep, with a 2-1 win over Kennesaw State on Friday, then a 3-0 win over Memphis on Sunday. The Rebels (6-1-1) enter Southeastern Conference play next Friday at No. 25 Arkansas.

"We came together as team," senior Mandy McCalla said of Sunday's win against Memphis. "The chemistry is there, and everyone is connecting. We have confidence from back-to-back wins this weekend, and we're going to take what we have learned in the nonconference into conference play."

"It was a great game for us," head coach Matt Mott said. "Two quality opponents. Memphis is a very good team. I'm really happy with our team to come out and score three goals and finish the shutout. To get a result like that is huge for us."

McCalla, who netted the go-ahead goal against Kennesaw State, did so again Sunday against Memphis, with her team-leading seventh goal of the season. Then, early in the second half, fellow senior Rafaelle Souza added a pair of goals in a one-minute span, her sixth and team-leading seventh goals of the season, as the Rebels extended their lead to 3-0.

"They get a chance (to score), and they have a really good idea of how to score and where to put the ball, and they both scored good goals tonight," Mott said of McCalla and Souza.



On the defensive end, junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick helped Ole Miss pitch its fourth shutout of the season, as McCormick made four saves, including one on a penalty kick when the game remained scoreless in the first half. The back line also made big plays on defense, including sophomore Maddie Friedmann, who cleared a ball of the line when the Rebels led 1-0 in the first half.

"Memphis has great, international-level forwards," Mott said. Our ability to shut them down and not let them create any goal-scoring chances was great for us. They attacked us some, but we defended them well for most of the game."

Through the first eight nonconference games, Ole Miss has a pair of road wins at UAB and St. Louis and played No. 23 Southern Cal to a 1-1 tie in the Minnesota Gold Classic. Offensively, the Rebels are averaging nearly three goals per game, with 23 goals through eight games, led by seven each from McCalla and Souza.

"We're two minutes away from being undefeated," Mott said of the first eight games. "We have played really well. Our intensity and effort have been good all year long. I'm certainly happy with it. Now, we have to get ready for conference play."






McCalla Named Team Captain


Senior forward Mandy McCalla, who earned All-SEC honors from the coaches and tied for the conference lead with 13 goals and 33 points last season, will wear the captain's armband for the Rebels this season.


"She's a leader for us," head coach Matt Mott said of McCalla. "She understands completely what we're trying to do, and how we're trying to do it. I trust her and believe in what she does. She brings the best out of everybody. She demands it out of herself first, then her teammates next. That's what you want in a leaders, and the girls absolutely respect her."


McCalla tied for the conference lead in goals and points with her teammate, senior Rafaelle Souza, and they are two of six seniors on the team.


"We have a good senior class that is going to carry us," he said. "We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but we have a strong senior class. You win with seniors, and we have six seniors."


Defense First


As the Rebels prepared for their season opener, at home, against Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. on Friday, August 23, Mott said the first emphasis will be on the back line.


"The good thing is we're starting out further along than we ever have, so we're starting a higher level," he said. "We've got to get our defensive game plan and figure out who we're going to play in the back because we have some options. I think we always want to put in the defense first. 


"We're going to score goals with Mandy and Rafa, and Bethany Bunker and Olivia Harrison all returning, and the new guys, we're putting in Addie Forbus and Mackenze Parma. We're going to score goals. We got to get sold defensively first."


A trio of sophomores -- Maddie Friedmann, Jessica Hiskey and Samantha Sanders -- started all 22 games as freshmen, and they all return to anchor the back line for the Rebels, along with junior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick who started all 22 games in goal and posted eight shutout victories last season.


"That, to me is exciting going into this season that we have all of those guys back," he said. "The whole back line is back, and you have Kelly in goal, who will be a junior now. Those guys who are sophomores have a full year under their belt and they look great."


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