STARKVILLE — Ideally, soccer coaches want to enter the postseason in top form.
Starkville Academy girls soccer coach Robert Gardner believes his team”s 2-2 draw against Jackson Academy last week was a sign the Lady Volunteers are primed for a playoff run.
Starkville Academy (9-6-1) hopes to ride the momentum of a six-game unbeaten stretch at 4 p.m. today when it plays host to Presbyterian Christian at the Starkville Sportsplex in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA playoff opener.
The tie against Jackson Academy was a positive sign, but Gardner saw the resiliency his team will need to overcome deficits in knockout games.
The Lady Volunteers went down a goal in the first half before pulling level in the first 10 minutes of the second half. They fell behind 2-1 with seven minutes left before Tiffany Huddleston secured the draw with her second goal.
“It was a playoff atmosphere,” Gardner said. “It was good to see a quick response to JA”s goals. Then to follow that up with a win over Clarksdale Lee, where we were able to play a lot of our younger players, was very pleasing.”
Should the Lady Vols win today, they would face the winner of Jackson Prep and Magnolia Heights. Starkville Academy owns a pair of 5-0 wins against Magnolia Heights this season, but hasn”t faced Jackson Prep this year.
Starkville Academy advanced to the playoffs last season but was eliminated in the first round. And though the team will field several players today without playoff experience, Gardner hopes the experience against Jackson Academy is adequate preparation.
“It”s one and done, and the girls know that,” Gardner said. “We just talked about the things we have to execute and the things we have to prevent. The attention to detail is the difference-maker in the playoffs.
“In our first choice 11, we”ve got what we want.”
Gardner is pleased to have his best player, Huddleston, a midfielder, in scoring form.
“I told her she was going to get chances and the chances she got she needed to take,” Gardner said. “She was our hero.”
Today, Starkville Academy will face a team with strong attacking players, which mirrors its makeup with forwards Sallie Kate Richardson and Payton Allen, and a style of play similar to Jackson Academy.
Winning the possession battle will be key, Huddleston said.
“I would like to say I think we could hold the ball in possession as a team,” said Huddleston, who suffered a quad injury two weeks ago but said she is fit for today”s match, “but from what I know about PCS, they have a few attacking threats, especially through the midfield. We know that will be tough, but I believe our midfield and back line should be able to hang with them.”