January 23, 2013 3:49:21 AM
STARKVILLE -- Carolina Berryhill and Hannah Laird made sure the Starkville High School girls soccer danced its way into the second round.
Berryhill scored two goals and Laird added another Tuesday night to lead Starkville to a 4-0 victory against Oxford in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs.
"We played great as a team. It felt awesome," Berryhill said.
Cailee Helen McClain also had a goal for Starkville (7-5-3), which will take on Center Hill, which defeated Callaway 6-0 on Tuesday, in the second round Saturday at a time to be determined.
The victory helped Starkville avenge a 2-0 loss to Oxford in the second round of the 2012 Class 5A North State playoffs.
While not completely satisfied with her team's play, Starkville coach Anna Albritton was pleased with the victory.
"They have a really good team, and they're going to have a really good team in the future," Albritton said. "They're fairly young. Like I said, this was a win for us, but it wasn't a pretty win. There are a lot of things we still need to bring together, but with the changing lineup hopefully that will make things jell a little better. It was nice to beat them solidly tonight in comparison to last year."
Albritton moved Berryhill, a senior who will play soccer at Jones County Junior College next season, from midfield to forward, while Laird slid into a bigger role in the midfield. Even though Starkville failed to convert several other excellent scoring chances, it generated plenty of scoring opportunities on an evening in which Berryhill and Laird gave the team's performance a seven on a scale of one to 10.
The celebratory dance Berryhill and Laird shared following their goals likely earned a higher score. The senior and sophomore, who also are members of the school's girls tennis team, have a habit of slapping hands when they play doubles. Since both players have a habit of scoring goals, they decided before the season to add to the hand slapping and make a dance out of it.
What started as a hand slap has transformed into a slap of the hands, a bump of the hips, and a jump into the air in which both players click their heels.
"People talk about it at school," Laird said of the dance. "All of the football players are like, 'I wish we had something like that.' It is really fun."
Laird said Tuesday was a fun evening in part because it also was senior night, so it was satisfying to send Berryhill, Chandler Buntin, Haley Jenkins, Sara Powell Harper, and Madison Buntin out with a victory, especially against the team that ended their season in 2012.
"We didn't really play well, but we got some lucky goals," Laird said. "We didn't pass together at all. It wasn't connected at all. We got some lucky goals because people were open at the right times. But we just wanted it so bad, too. If you want something really bad, most of the time even if you can't do your best you will make it happen."
Albritton disagreed with Laird in that she felt Starkville scored one "lucky" goal, the first one. She said Laird's goal -- the second one -- off a direct kick was "beautiful," while Berryhill and the Lady Yellow Jackets beat the defense and delivered great finishes.
Albritton said she didn't know Berryhill and Laird were going to bring their tennis moves to the soccer field. She feels the players know the other's strengths and weaknesses and complement each other.
"I really put a lot of pressure on Hannah," Albritton said. "She can play this game, and she can run the middle of the field. We had to move Carolina from the middle of the field to striker, and I think that made a difference. She was in her comfort zone. I think she did well for us tonight."
Even though Berryhill and Laird don't play together often on the tennis court, Albritton said both of those players and the rest of the Lady Yellow Jackets can do a better job of connecting their passes and playing more possession soccer.
"We got lucky on some of our passes," Albritton said. "That is where we have to clean up our game between now and Saturday."
Despite not giving her team a higher mark, Berryhill said Starkville has made significant strides from last season thanks to its ability to blend its experience and its youth. She took a page from Albritton and said the Lady Yellow Jackets will need to connect better if they want to extend their season.
If they do, more dancing will be in the mix.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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