STARKVILLE — Relentless confidence.
Taken separately, one of the words could be used to describe a strength of Amber Bock. The junior striker relishes any opportunity to attack a defense, so mark her tightly and don’t let her gain possession of the ball.
The other word aptly highlights a characteristic that makes Anna Card so tough. While Bock terrorizes defenses, Card has a knack for making things difficult for attacking players. Even if you dare to get past her, Card will track you down and do everything in her power to protect her goal.
Taken together, the two words create an ideal package for two individuals who have played integral roles in the Starkville Academy girls soccer team’s 2-0 start to the season.
For their accomplishments, Bock and Card are The Dispatch’s Prep Players of the Week.
Starkville Academy, which beat Hartfield Academy to win the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Division III State title last season, beat Bayou Academy 3-1 and Indianola Academy 6-2 last week. Bock had two goals in the first match and four more in the second, while Card helped anchor a defense that has come together since the start of preseason training. The victories helped a team that lost seven seniors from its first state championship squad get off to a flying start for first-year head coach JoJo Dodd.
“The girls trust Anna on defense to do her job,” Dodd said. “The girls trust Amber to finish it, so they will feed her.”
Bock played midfield last season for the Lady Volunteers. The transition to striker was a smooth one because she has played the position for years with club teams, either with the Memphis Lobos, her current team, or the Southaven Warriors. She started playing the sport in the Starkville Soccer Association and played there through the sixth grade. Since then, she has grown into a confident, deadly scorer.
There was a time, though, when Bock didn’t have the confidence she now possesses.
“I used to have no confidence at all when I was younger,” Bock said. “I was playing striker and I was a little scared to hold the ball and take my space. Now I am not so shy about it anymore.”
Bock said she remembers feeling a boost of energy after she scored her first goal that triggered a hunger to do it again and again that drives her today. She said that first goal probably came when she was playing with the Warriors in a tournament in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bock said she hasn’t had to make many adjustments at striker because she knows how her teammates play. She said they also know how and where she likes the ball, so the early success hasn’t been surprising.
Dodd said confidence is an essential quality for a striker. He said attacking players usually are going to miss their share of opportunities, so they have to keep shooting and pushing until they reap the rewards of their hard work.
“Amber is a solid offensive player,” Dodd said. “She knows how good she is, and she is that good. She is able to make plays, she talks to the midfield, and she asks for plays to happen. She tells people where to go and she is leading up front. That is crucial to have that leadership in the scoring third.”
Card, who plays right back, has teamed with center backs Karlee McNeel and Mary Margaret McReynolds and left back Meredith Reed in front of goalkeeper Meri Laci Archer.
“I guess we just work really well together,” Card said. “I was new to the team and didn’t know how it was going to work. The first game I think the defense really kept it together.”
Card took a year off from soccer last season and is “happy to be back.” She said she missed playing soccer and was motivated to be with her friends after seeing the 2016 team capture a state championship.
Card said friends Archer and Erin Lyle tried all last year to get her to play for Starkville Academy. She laughed when asked if Archer and Lyle take credit for getting her to play again.
In the preseason, Card said the defenders worked on communication to make sure they are covering and supporting each other to make things tough for opponents.
Dodd said he has been pleased with how the four defenders have complemented each other.
“Anna is a brick wall back there,” Dodd said. “If you have someone attacking the back line that makes you nervous, you see Anna is there and you breathe easier. She is a no-frills player. She doesn’t ask for much. She doesn’t require much. She just plays good soccer. She is solid, and she hustles. When she gets beat, she comes back and fights back.”
Starkville Academy had its match against Lamar School on Monday stopped after 15 minutes due to lightning. The team’s scheduled match today at the Starkville Sportsplex was canceled due to wet field conditions. Weather permitting, the team will return to action Thursday against Columbus Christian Academy.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.