January 12, 2013 11:13:15 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Inexperience and a saturated field aren't stumbling blocks for the Starkville High School girls soccer team.
The fact that the Lady Yellow Jackets have only five seniors on their roster might explain why early deficits and soaked playing surfaces don't faze them.
On Friday, neither of those factors slowed Starkville as it erased an early deficit and earned a 4-1 victory against New Hope in a Class 5A, Region 3 match.
Cailee Helen McClain had three goals, including a nifty header off a cross in the second half, and Hannah Laird added another to help the Lady Yellow Jackets return in style in their first game of 2013.
"This was, by far, our best game," Starkville coach Anna Albritton said. "I was really scared of the Christmas break because we missed two games because of weather. We were really off for three full weeks. They came back and I was so impressed. They didn't lose a step. I think they looked better, so I think the break helped them."
Starkville had an extra step it needed to tie the game. Laird read the offsides trap and slid a diagonal ball to the left to Haley Jenkins. The senior moved past one defender deeper into the box and slid a slow roller to the right, where McClain beat a defender and the goalkeeper and had enough on her touch to tie it at one with 22 minutes, 30 seconds left in the half.
Laird's goal off a throw-in with seven minutes to go apparently came off a screen. Laird took possession just inside the left sideline and moved to her right in front of several defenders. Her right-footed shot snuck just inside the left post.
McClain put the game away by taking a cross from Jenkins from the left wing and slipping the ball inside the back post. The final goal was the best of all, as she headed a cross from Sanci Borganelli into the right corner just inside the post.
"We have got some good players," said Albritton, whose team improved to 6-4-3. "Some of these girls have been out here with me since the seventh grade, and you take a player and you develop them. That's what we have done. We have taken players and developed them and molded them into the positions we want them to play.
"There is a lot of youth, but there is a lot of experience out there. We only have maybe four girls who play Select (soccer), and those girls help us with the other girls."
Carolina Berryhill, Chandler Buntin, Jenkins, Sara Powell Harper, and Madison Buntin are the "old" women on a roster littered with seventh- and eighth-graders and freshmen and sophomores. The "inexperience" based on the years the players are in school doesn't translate to the field. Several of the team's Select players are middle schoolers or freshmen or sophomores. Albritton said that youth has her excited about the rest of this season and the future.
Starkville will play Thursday at Neshoba Central before playing host to New Hope on Friday. Coming off its first victory at New Hope in a number of years, Albritton hopes the Lady Yellow Jackets can duplicate their effort Friday twice next week.
New Hope coach Mary Nagy was pleased with the start of the match. Transfer student Pernille Slettestoel took a lead pass and scored into the far corner less than four minutes in. But the Lady Trojans couldn't maintain the momentum and allowed the Lady Yellow Jackets to win a majority of the 50-50 balls. Starkville also controlled most of the possession, even though the left side of the field near the Starkville bench had standing water and slowed the ball on many runs.
Nagy didn't offer any excuses for her team's performance, and said it needs to turn the page quickly to regroup for the final week of the regular season.
"We were ready and had it together, and then we had a breakdown on our defense, which is very uncommon," Nagy said. "Kayla (Smith), Abby (Wilson), and Erin (Robertson) have been the strength of our team. For the first time this year, they all pulled something they shouldn't have done. They didn't call ball, they all lunged and it was right there in front and they scored.
"I thought we were ready to come out and play. The girls seemed to be ready. We got outplayed by a very good Starkville team. We got outhustled to the ball. It looked like we didn't want that ball. I think we played almost a little scared tonight, and that is not the personality of this team."
New Hope has only one senior -- Reagan Hern -- and two juniors, so Nagy knows the youth of her team is a factor. But she said the team has to find the "fire in its belly" next week if it wants to keep its season alive.
"We told them after the game, 'This is what we saw, this is what happened, it is over,' " Nagy said. "We wouldn't be on this field doing what we're doing if we didn't see the talent, the ability, and the work ethic. You just have to pick up your pace of game play. You're playing at a slower speed than you need to be. You have everything it takes to win., but now we have to execute. Tonight our execution fell flat. I told them, 'You get another opportunity on Friday. This one we don't blow.' "
New Hope will play host to Neshoba Central on Tuesday. It defeated Neshoba Central in its first meeting, so if it wins Tuesday the rematch against Starkville could come down to goal differential.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.