January 13, 2020 11:44:34 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the year of Caledonia's last win against Amory. It was in 2013.
CALEDONIA -- Emotions ran high Nov. 16 in Amory when the Caledonia girls soccer team beat the Panthers for the first time since 2013.
"I know us and our parents cried," senior center back and captain Blair Ward said. "We had just been so accustomed to being blown out by them. 9-0 games. 8-0. We finally fought back and beat them for once."
Three days later, the Confederates went into Mooreville and beat the team that knocked them out of last year's MHSAA Class 4A playoffs, 3-2.
"It felt like we had reestablished who we were," Ward said. "We told them, 'We're not afraid of y'all anymore.'"
Buoyed by those two contests, the 'Feds took an unbeaten record into a home match with Mooreville on Dec. 6, pulling away to a 3-1 lead with 17 minutes to go. Then senior defensive midfielder Clara Allen, the Feds' other captain, came out of the match with cramps, and things began to unravel.
Mooreville scored four goals in quick succession to win the match 5-3, leaving Caledonia coach Thomas Blake and the 'Feds stunned and lamenting the opportunities they missed to truly put the match away.
"I think that was a humbling experience for them," Blake said. "I think it was a humbling experience for me. And it hurt. It hurt.
"We got confident, and we got complacent. That's why I think we allowed them to come back."
That match remains the 'Feds' only defeat in a 11-1-1 season, but Blake and Ward know how much it helped in the long run.
"I think we've kind of kept that in the back of our minds about how that felt," Blake said. "I just think we have the mentality now: We don't want to let that happen again. We don't want to be in that situation. We know now going forward it's gotta be 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. Anytime we slack off, now we're aware of what can happen when we do that. If we don't have 100 percent effort, we're aware of what can happen if we don't do that. I think that game made us better more than any other game we've played this season."
Caledonia, a deep team led by a group of four seniors -- Ward, Allen, forward Claire Benson and left back Savannah Andrewsen -- didn't fold after that devastating loss. The 'Feds won five of their next six matches and tied Class 6A power Starkville on Thursday, though the Yellow Jackets equalized late in that match.
"Even though we didn't get the win and we're not satisfied with the draw, I think it shows that we can compete against really any school we go up against," Blake said.
That's become important for Caledonia in a new and improved district. The 'Feds used to compete against the likes of Louisville and Kosciusko, but their new region features strong three strong teams: Itawamba Agricultural, Mooreville and Pontotoc.
"It's always a fight," Ward said.
Caledonia can expect to capture a district title should it gain a game on Mooreville in the final stretch of district play -- something Ward would cherish in her senior season.
"I would love that," she said. "Nothing would make me happier."
She and her teammates had to learn quickly adjusted to a new system under Blake, a first-year coach at the school. Blake scrapped Caledonia's 4-4-2 formation when he took over for Louis Alexander at the helm, and "nobody fully trusted" his new 4-3-3 scheme, Ward said.
"I know the whole team kind of struggled with it, just trying to understand the concept," she said. "It was like, 'OK, this isn't gonna work,' and then during our first games we didn't even have three of our starters. But we still did really good, and we all kind of believed in it."
Blake knows Caledonia can't run the 4-3-3 in every game -- the 'Feds must adjust depending on the opponent -- but so far, he's happy with how it has worked out.
"I think it's a formation that has worked really, really well for us," Blake said. "It's a formation that I love ... All in all, I think that formation definitely helps us reach our potential on the field."
The talent Caledonia possesses has gone a long way toward realizing that potential, too. While the 'Feds have four seniors in their starting lineup, it's still a young team.
"This is a team that's loaded with depth," Blake said. "It's a solid bunch. You usually don't see that. Up and down the roster, it's solid, and I feel confident in all of those girls."
That depth will come into play as Caledonia nears the end of its regular season and the playoffs, which will begin Jan. 28. And matter how they fare, the 'Feds won't forget that loss to Mooreville anytime soon -- for better or for worse.
"I think we've done a good job of learning from our experiences," Blake said. "It's about continuing to work hard, continuing to develop and continuing to get better, and I think we've done that every game. By the time we get into the playoffs and those situations, we're gonna put ourselves in a really good position."
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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