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New Albany soccer is preparing for their new season, taking part in pre-season action this weekend.
Both squads are coming off playoff appearances in 2009, with the Bulldogs boasting a second round appearance, as well as a division championship and season sweep of rival Pontotoc.
“One thing we’ve been preaching is that we’re going to have to practice harder than Pontotoc,” head coach Taylor Nichols said. “They’re one of the best teams, along with Amory, on this side of the state, and it’s going to take practicing on days like this, when it’s raining, instead of going home. They have the skill, it’s just mentally, they have to be tough, focused and know that once the game comes, we’ve worked harder than they have.”
Nichols’ team lost three seniors from last season, but boasts several returning starters. The biggest change will again be in the net, as Alex Harrison and Taylor Goode will battle for that position.
“Alex is going to have to earn his spot before Taylor gets out here, and that’s going to be some good competition,” he said. “Bobby (Coltharp) did really good for us last year, and we’re hoping one of the two will step up and do the same.”
Early on, Nichols will have a short team to work with while football continues, but he is confident in the team he has practicing right now and sees nothing but positives when the remainder of the team join later.
“I tell them that no one single person is going to make a difference with this team,” he explained. “Once we get those guys out here, we’ll have about 20, and of those, most of them can play. The first few games that the football boys will miss are preparation games for division play, so we’ll see. It’ll be interesting, but the guys here right now are working hard and when the rest get out here, it’ll help us that much more.”
Defending their division title will be top priority, and the Bulldogs hope to make history once more this season.
“It’s their division championship right now, and it’s their’s to keep and defend,” Nichols said. “Our slogan this year is ‘winners make history.’ We made bracelets, and we want to do more than what we did last year, and if we do, we make history, so they’ve been focused and they’re doing really good, and the biggest thing is that they’ve grown up a lot.”
For the Lady Bulldogs, Les Huntington will again have a young squad, but one that has the capability of making another playoff appearance.
Five high schoolers will take the field for New Albany and the remainder of the team will once again be comprised of very capable junior high talent.
“The young girls we had last year, most of them came back, but they didn’t play a lot last year,” Huntington said. “This year, several will be starters. They’ve had some experience, but not a lot. We’ve also picked up a few seventh graders that show a lot of potential.”
Estephanie Fernandez and Brittany Ellett will serve as senior captains, and in a pleasant surprise, Huntington has four to choose from at goal keeper.
“It’s rather unusual that we have four people when we had no one at this time last year,” he said. “They’ve all shown a tremendous amount of improvement from last year, so I think we’re going to be okay this year, and I’m encouraged.”
Gaining experience through a tough schedule will be key for the Lady ‘Dawgs, who hope to make only their second playoff appearance in school history this year.
“We deliberately made the schedule harder this year,” Huntington said. “We have South Pontotoc, which is our traditional game. They’re the only 3A team we’re playing, and everyone else will be 4A and above, including a game against Tupelo. The goal is to get as much experience as possible. How we’ll be after a few games, I don’t know, but we should be in goodstead for the playoffs.”
New Albany will open their regular season at home versus Saltillo on November 9th.