Participants in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools all-star soccer matches included Anna Acker and Haley Barker of Heritage Academy, as well as Elizabeth Easterling and Celia Peel of Columbus Christian Academy. Heritage Academy coach Tom Velek is also shown. Photo by: Contributed
October 14, 2018 12:32:32 AM
Anna Acker and Haley Barker discovered Wednesday you can be a little intimidated and have fun at the same time.
The Heritage Academy seniors were two of six local players who participated in the annual Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) All-Star game. Acker and Barker played for the Blue team in a 1-1 tie against the White team on Wednesday in the annual MAIS event at Jackson Prep.
"It was kind of intimidating because everyone is really, really good and everyone is there for a reason," said Barker, who played on defense, "but we got to meet a lot of new people and it was fun."
This season marked the second-straight year Heritage Academy placed two players in the Senior All-Star game. Last year, Haley Marie Fisackerly and Mallory Amos were on the roster for the Blue team. Columbus Christian Academy's Celia Peal joined them on the Blue team, while CCA's Elizabeth Easterling was on the White squad.
Starkville Academy's Lake Little and Ellis Ann Jackson also participated in the game.
Acker played on defense, while Acker played in the midfield. All of the players rotated so everyone had comparable playing time.
The match likely marked the end of the prep soccer careers of two individuals who played key roles in helping the Lady Patriots grow from four wins to five to 11 and a district championship this season under coach Tom Velek. Heritage Academy lost to Bayou Academy 2-1 in the Class III North State title match.
Both players praised Velek for helping to elevate the profile of the program. Barker said it is "kind of emotional" to reflect on a career that required such an investment of time in training, travel, games, and conditioning. She said she wonders what she will do now that she isn't going to have to get ready for another season.
"It has been really fun because it always has just been us to in the grade who have played," Acker said. "I came here in the eighth grade and we have progressed every since, so it was really fun this year.
Said Barker, "We have improved every year more and more. It is really rewarding when you finally make it to where you want to be."
Acker agreed and said the realization that she is finally done with soccer will probably be more real next fall when it's soccer season. For now, Acker will transition to the school's girls basketball team, while Barker will begin preparations for tennis season. Both are members of the Heritage Academy cheerleading team.
Acker said she plans to attend Ole Miss and is undecided about a field of study. Barker said she plans to attend Alabama and study something in the medical field. They said they haven't talked about the fact they will be rivals at competing Southeastern Conference schools next year.
Velek knows he will miss the team leaders who anchored his team's defense and offense.
"Anna Acker and Haley Barker have had the ideal senior seasons -- short of winning a state title," Velek said. "They have both been leaders on the team -- as captains, and as major playmakers on the field. Their play and leadership helped lead the team to a remarkable 11-3 record, a district title, and a trip to the North Half State championship match. The fact that they were honored by the MAIS coaches and selected as state All-Stars is a crowning accomplishment for a great season and career."
Despite feeling like their soccer careers are over, both players felt they grew as players in the last few years. Acker said she emerged as a better defender and improved her ability to communicate and to organize. Barker said she grew to trust her teammates more, which she said enabled her not to feel like she had to do it all herself. That mentality often made Barker more dangerous because she already was an established goal scorer, but this season she actively sought to involve her teammates as a facilitator.
"Each year everyone on the team matured and got better, so that just allowed me to trust them more and feel confident passing it to them and know they could do something good with it," Barker said.
Both players feel the future of the program is bright, especially if the Lady Patriots work as hard in the summer as the 2018 team did.
"I think that since we went so far this year they're going to be even more determined next year to make it all of the way," Barker said.
If Heritage Academy does that, it just might have two or more players invited to play in the annual senior event, which would be a fitting accomplishment for a program on the rise.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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