Story by Mark McFarland, Sports Editor
After a season for the record books, the Racers begin their 2016 season 0-1 after a 4-2 loss to Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponent the University of Alabama.
With an undefeated conference season last year, Head Coach Jeremy Groves and his team know they have a target on their backs, but he thinks the girls are prepared for that kind of pressure.
“I have certain standards and that’s something I told the girls,” Groves said. “I think after our first exhibition game, I think I had higher expectations than maybe we are at right now.”
The Racers are led by junior forward, Harriet Withers from Murwillumbah, Australia, and senior forward Taylor Richerson from Murray. Withers was the top goal-scorer for Murray State last year and drew plenty of attention to herself as a threat in the OVC. Richerson plays up top with Withers and the two work very well together, Groves said.
During the Alabama game Sunday, Withers scored both goals for the Racers with an assist from junior midfielder Aaron Lankster and rebounded a Lankster shot that was saved. Both Withers and Lankster look to lead the team, as they are fully aware the teams in the OVC are gunning for them.
“We’ve kind of made ourselves this team that’s, you know, we won every game in our conference last year, so teams will obviously want to beat us,” Lankster said. “One of the hardest parts is, it’s one thing to hear that, it’s another thing to realize and recognize that that’s a serious threat and that’s something we really have to work to kind of uphold our standing in the conference.”
Withers said the whole team knows what is at stake, but they are excited to be the team everyone in the conference wants to beat.
The Racers will face two more SEC opponents this non-conference season, as they will travel to Vanderbilt and the University of Kentucky. Groves said even though the team lost Sunday, he feels more confident that they can hang with bigger SEC schools.
“We were very good in the first half,” Groves said. “We were compact, we defended exactly like we drew it up during the week. We frustrated them.”
Groves said they talked at halftime about not letting up any early chances in the second half, but the Crimson Tide scored in the first two minutes of the half on their way to score four unanswered goals to beat the Racers.
Murray State will play its first home game at 4 p.m. Friday at Cutchin Field. They will take on the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga. UTC is 1-1 with a 1-0 loss against Kennesaw State and an 8-0 win over Alabama A&M.
“I hate losing,” Groves said. “I know last year is going to be hard to replicate, going 10-0 in the conference, but I want to win every game and I want to beat these SEC schools because I know we can do it.”