Preview: Southern Miss Soccer opens conference play on historic run

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Ilana Izquierdo dribbles against a Nicholls State defender.

One would think that after a loss in the conference semifinals and the departure of key seniors, Southern Miss Soccer would have trended to a rebuilding process this season. Think again.

Southern Miss Soccer (6-2) has done exactly the opposite. They aren’t rebuilding. They are reloading.

The Golden Eagles have shown no stoppage from its level of play last season, only months removed from a near appearance in the league’s championship game. Eight games into the season, Southern Miss sits atop its division.

The Golden Eagles have had an aggressive attack, netting 26 goals in eight games, amounting to 3.25 goals per game.

This offensive prowess has led the team to 8-0 and 6-0 victories against Nicholls State and Jackson State. The team reached the 20-goal mark the fastest it had done since 2018.

Southern Miss sits on a four-game winning streak, which is its longest winning stretch since 2019. Southern Miss is the only team in the conference that remains undefeated at home.

The last two wins have been historic wins for the program, too. The Golden Eagles beat Charlotte away for the first time in program history with a 2-0 victory and then came home the same week to edge Marshall 4-2 for the first win against the Thundering Herd since 2007.

All this being said, the Golden Eagles have accomplished these feats with 14 freshmen on its team. Those freshmen have made their impact, accounting for 52% of the team’s goals.

Freshman Ilana Izquierdo leads the team with five goals, which places her at third in the conference for most scores. 

While Head Coach Mohammed El-Zare is impressed with the play of his freshmen, he said he looks for the team to improve as the team heads into its conference schedule.

“We’ve got North Texas [first], who is the powerhouse of this league and they’re going to be ready for us,” El-Zare said. “We need not only to bring our best game but show a lot more grit, maturity and consistency throughout the whole game.”

Returning players, senior Ariel Diaz and sophomore Blessing Kingsle, follow behind Izquierdo with three goals each.

Diaz, the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year, has lived up to that name, as she not only sits at seventh in the conference for most goals, but also sits atop the leaderboards for assists. She has six assists, which is the second-most in the conference.

“Everybody has contributed whether they start or come off the bench…that’s what makes us different and special,” Mohammed said.

The team has also had solid play from its goalkeepers, including veteran Kendell Mindnich and a stretch of shutouts from newcomer Alex Helbling. Southern Miss has allowed only seven goals throughout eight games, with all the goals allowed coming from three games.

Helbling’s shutouts in her first two career starts earned her a C-USA Goalkeeper of the Week award.

Southern Miss opens its conference schedule against North Texas Friday at 7 p.m. The Golden Eagles have only beaten the Mean Green once out of seven games (1-5-1), with the program’s first victory coming in a 2-1 win last season.