Boys’ soccer chases seventh state title in a row

From Issue 4 (Updated)

There is only one word that can accurately describe the Jackson Prep Boys soccer program – dominant. With an outstanding 2015 season, capped off by a victory over Madison Ridgeland Academy to claim their 6th consecutive State Title, the team begins a new campaign with high expectations to reach 7 consecutive championships. 

To prepare for this challenge, the team began with preseason workouts in the early months of winter. Conditioning is a major part of any athletic sport, but with soccer it’s significance is emphasized. A normal high school soccer game lasts for approximately 80 minutes of continuous play. This requires great stamina and players being in peak physical shape. A common phrase that assistant coach Jay Lyles uses is, “Running is 80% mental. This is only building mental strength, and because we need to be in peak physical shape, we will never be outworked.”

Sophomore Mason Morgan stretches before practice. Photo by Stewart McCullough.

This season began with high hopes when playing their first game against a 6A Public School, which was a matchup that the team was looking forward to. Their first game was against Clinton, a team that has had a reputation for dominating in boys soccer over the past several years. The beginning whistle blew, and just like that, the 2016-17 campaign began. Prep would take an early 1-0 lead going into halftime, but senior Hunter Patterson knew that their will to win would be tested in the second half. “When playing a team that has the speed and skill that Clinton has, games are not won in the first 40 minutes. You have to play 80 minutes with all you have and leave nothing on the field. Execution is key in any game, and we did not execute in the second half.” Prep went on to let up 3 goals in the second half and suffered their first loss of the day. In most circumstances, the team plays one game a day and may not have a chance to redeem themselves for a few days, but this day, they would face Ridgeland not even 2 hours later. At the start of the first half, the Patriots looked to senior Brent Hall to give them an early 1-0 lead. From there, it seemed like the offense was in a rhythm as they shared the ball, not always trying to press forward and relying on their defense to make great plays in hectic situations. In the end, Prep won 3-1 and took home one loss and one win in their opening series of games.

The team works on passing with a skill drill. Photo by Stewart McCullough.

The next week at practice, coaches Jon Marcus Duncan and Jay Lyles stressed the need to finish in all areas of the game. Whether it be shooting the ball, defending or just making sure everyone follows through with their passes. With a game around the corner against Starkville Academy, the team was focused on playing their best through all 80 minutes.

After a two hour bus ride, they would step of the bus, look across the field, and see a focused team who just came off of a two game win streak. While the team from Starkville felt confident with their play, Tanner McCraney felt differently, along with a few others. When the final whistle blew, Tanner McCraney racked up six individual goals and two assists. Prep dominated Starkville Academy by a score of 10-1. The Junior Varsity team also beat Starkville Academy 3-0.

This past weekend, the soccer team competed in two games on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They would compete against Gulf Port High School on Friday night and Ocean Springs High School Saturday afternoon. After falling 2-0 early in the first half, Prep would rally to make a 3-0 streak, ending the first game 3-2 and beat a highly talented Gulf Port team. After playing 80 minutes the previous night, the team would wake up the next morning and play a tough Ocean Springs team. It was a game of missed opportunities to say the least. Prep would out possess the greyhounds and at one point, the ball did not cross midfield into Prep’s defensive area for a string of 15 minutes. When it comes to shots on goal, Prep tallied a whopping 15, but could not capitalize. Ocean Spring would have 3 shots on goal, and would make 2 of them. In the end, Prep was defeated by arguably one of the best teams in the state 2-0. For most players, it was a long car ride back to Jackson as they though, “what could I have done more to give us the edge.” Coach Duncan repeated at the end of the game, “Boys, don’t hold your heads low. This game was one lucky break and one small pass away from us winning this game. Today was just not our day. If we played this team again, we would have a good chance of winning.”

The soccer squad has a chance to redeem themselves with a tournament in Oxford this next weekend. They will face off against Madison Central, Desoto Central, and Oak Grove.

After winning their sixth consecutive championship last season, this year, the team has much to live up to, but with as much talent that they have and the cohesiveness shown in these three games, they are in position to make it seven in a row.