By LEE ADAMS
In 2010, the Mississippi State Bulldog soccer team started out winning seven of their first nine games.
However, injuries slowed down their winning ways as they dropped their next 10 games. The Bulldogs rebounded in the final game of the season defeating Ole Miss 2-1.
To avoid the injury bug in 2011, the Bulldogs have been working on their fitness.
"We've worked on our overall fitness because last year injuries started to pile up, because of a lack of fitness," said head coach Neil Macdonald. " We addressed that so we maybe won't have as many injuries this year."
The Bulldogs showed what they can do when they are healthy when they hosted and defeated Samford 3-0 in an exhibition last week. That exhibition win gave the Bulldogs some momentum going into today's opener against Arkansas State.
"It's always a confidence booster to the girls," said Macdonald. "Samford is a good program that always performs well, so to beat them so comfortably was a real confidence booster and we took a lot of positives from it."
Macdonald thinks has been a well organized defensive team, so he has spent a lot time this offseason working on his offense.
"Our offensive front is better than it has been," said Macdonald. "We've worked a lot this spring and fall on our front three to get more scoring opportunities."
Today's game is only one of five road games the Bulldogs will play to open the season.
"It's always a challenge when you're on the road," said Macdonald. "It's tough to start on the road but we'll come out of it a better ball club."
After today's season opener, the Bulldogs will spend next weekend in Riverside, Calif., playing UC Riverside and UC Irvine, which Macdonald believes will help his team prepare for conference games.
"On the California trip, we will play two good teams," said Macdonald. "Those games will prepare us for SEC play."
After their California trip, the Bulldogs will play Jackson State and Southern Miss, before finally returning home on September 9 to face Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The first SEC showdown of the season will be on September 23 in Baton Rouge against LSU. Two days later, they will be on the road again to face the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The first SEC home match for the Bulldogs will be on September 30 against the Alabama Crimson Tide, and the following Sunday the Auburn Tigers will roll into town.
SEC matches are key to the Bulldogs reaching their goal, but their goal is subject to change depending on how far they can go.
"We want to qualify for the SEC Tournament," said Macdonald. "If we get there, our goal will become getting to the national tournament."
To reach the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs will have to finish in the top eight in conference play.
The Bulldogs have a long season ahead of them, but hope to be playing in Orange Beach, Ala., on Nov. 2 in the SEC Tournament.