As seniors, Haley Barker and Anna Acker have a sense of satisfaction about what the Heritage Academy girls soccer team has accomplished this season.
A year after winning five games and falling a goal short of making the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) playoffs, Heritage Academy has doubled its win total and secured what is believed to be the program’s first district title.
But Acker, Barker, and the rest of the Lady Patriots aren’t satisfied.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Heritage Academy (10-2) will try to build on its success when it plays host to Indianola Academy at 6 p.m. in the first round of the MAIS Division III playoffs at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex.
“I think we have definitely exceeded some of our expectations,” said Barker, who is the team’s leading goal scorer. “We just went into this season really determined and positive and ready to exceed those expectations.”
The winner of the game will play Thursday at a time and a site to be determined. The MAIS website lists Monday as the date for all three of the division championship games.
Barker said it is “surreal” to be part of a team in which everyone is making their first playoff appearances. Acker agreed and said the run to the postseason has been exciting and has set the bar higher for future classes.
Sophomores Carly Rogers and Kelly Bell will be part of that future. Barker and Acker are the team’s only seniors, so all of the Lady Patriots believe this season is a starting point to build a championship tradition.
“Everybody was really determined to go into this season and starting to accomplish our goals,” Rogers said. “Now that we are No. 1 in the district, I think everybody is really focused and ready for this week. We also are really excited and a little nervous.”
Bell is part of a core group of seven sophomores. She said it will be important for the Lady Patriots not to get distracted about the road ahead or to get too caught up in what they did in the regular season.
Heritage Academy coach Tom Velek shared in the optimism at the beginning of the season. In fact, he felt the team had a good chance to win the district title and to go on to play for a state title. He said the Lady Patriots have received contributions from numerous individuals en route to a championship finish in the first part of the campaign. All of that, though, won’t matter in what he hopes is a three-part second segment to the season.
“They call it the postseason for a reason because it is a new season,” Velek said. “I am not trying to sound like some old, wise sage, but I have been in enough state tournaments and district tournament that often it is not the player or the team with the better record, it is the team that is mentally and physically prepared and focused and ready to play that day.”
Velek likes the fact Heritage Academy will have a chance to play at home again Thursday if it takes cares of business Tuesday. He said there will be plenty of distractions this week — nine-weeks testing and a home football game — that could test the team’s focus, but he believes the Lady Patriots have learned from their disappointments in previous seasons and built confidence in their title run this season. He hopes all of that will come out Tuesday and help Heritage Academy extend its season.
“Two years ago when I started we were 4-8,” Velek said. “I think in the article Haley Marie Fisackerly back then people thought we were a joke. I still have that article. Last year, we were 5-2 and this year we are 10-2 and nobody thinks we are a joke anymore. It is gratifying. They have bought in. I have videos of them dead-lifting in the middle of the summer, doing spring work in the middle of the summer, and I think we work harder than any other team out there.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.