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Three Oxford natives prepared for big role in Ole Miss soccer

“It’s cold. It’s very cold out here,” Mo O’Connor said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just tell myself it’s cold.”

The hottest week of the year corresponded perfectly with the final week in the Ole Miss soccer offseason without a real, regular season game. Maddy Houghton adds that the heat kind of makes you feel like you’re getting hit by a truck. Houghton’s sister, Alley, the oldest of the three, just laughs – nothing works in her mind to forget the heat.

The coolest part for the three Rebels is the relatively unique bond they have, one shared by few in high-level D1 athletics. Not only are all three from the same home town – they’re all still playing for a hometown school.

Alley Houghton graduated from Lafayette High School in 2016. Playing with the varsity unit since middle school, she became the first-ever LHS student to win the  Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year award for her 2015-16 season. Like her sister Maddy would do two years later, and her former cross-town rival O’Connor will do this year, Alley saw playing time from year one at Ole Miss. However, that progression got a little sidetracked in the summer of 2018, when she tore her Achilles tendon in the offseason, missing all of the 2018 season.

Oxford High’s Anna Dennis (14) chases Lafayette High’s Alley Houghton (3) at William L. Buford Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on Tuesday, November 17, 2015.

“She’s back!” Maddy interrupted her sister while discussing the return from injury. “But seriously, I’m just happy to have my sister back.”

Alley admitted how tough last year was, but said it allowed her to evaluate what she could do better and appreciate what she had. That mental fortitude built from a year on the sideline helped her get to a point where she agrees that she feels 100 percent entering 2019.

Maddy graduated from Lafayette in 2018, following in her sister’s footsteps to the Ole Miss soccer team. Growing up, she would regularly play games two age groups in advance of where she actually was, just so she and Alley could play on the same team. Now in 2019, they get to take the field together for the first time since 2016.

A freshman just a year ago, Maddy said she didn’t really expect to play all that much when she appeared on campus. Despite that initial notion, she started 13 games her freshman year on the Rebel back line. Thrust into the starting role a year ago, there’s really no one that has better advice for the third member of the Oxford native trio who may be doing the same in 2019.

“Come in calm. When I first came in, I was very nervous,” Maddy Houghton said of her advice to O’Connor. “When I would get the ball, I did things I wouldn’t normally do. It’s more or less calming down and playing your soccer.”

And then there’s Mo. Where the Houghton sisters were Commodores through grade school, O’Connor was the Charger rival. Of the three, she may have the most distinguished high school career. O’Connor graduated from Oxford this past spring, finishing high school a year early so that she could enroll at Ole Miss and join this team.

Morgan O’Connor of Oxford soccer was named the Gatorade Mississippi Girls Soccer Player of the Year for the second time on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Bruce Newman)

In her three years at Oxford High, O’Connor helped lead the Chargers to back-to-back state titles in 2016 and 2017 and was twice named United Soccer Coaches and Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year (in 2017 and 2019). Her final Oxford campaign, she was named an Allstate All-American. A journey that seems to have dragged on, even though it ended a year early, she admits it’s sort of weird to be finally wearing that Ole Miss uniform. Even more so, she said, it’s weird playing for the same team as the Houghtons, instead of playing against each other.

The team has played two exhibition games now, primed for their regular season opener on Thursday. She said that those scrimmages were difficult. The nerves got the best of her at times, leading her to make passes she wouldn’t normally make. But really, it helped her slow down.

O’Connor isn’t going to be asked to do nearly as much this year as she was in high school. She’s still learning and adapting to playing with this Ole Miss team. But at the same time, this Ole Miss team is one she’s known for quite a while growing up.

“It’s just crazy to think that we have three Oxford girls, considering I was the first one,” Alley said. “I’m just glad for how good Oxford is becoming at soccer. I’m just glad to play with three people from my hometown.”