A year removed from a winless co-ed soccer season, Natchez High’s teams kicking into high gear

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2000

What a difference a year has made so far for the Natchez High School soccer program.

During the 1999-2000 school year, Natchez High fielded its first ever soccer team, a co-ed team. That team won no games.

Before the start of the 2000-2001 soccer season, Natchez High decided to split the team into a varsity girls team and a varsity boys team.

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It has turned out to be a good move for everyone involved, including the players.

&uot;It helped with me,&uot; said Natchez girls soccer coach Dana Benson. &uot;We had four players return from last year. Last year’s program helped with the girls team.&uot;

Benson said that more than one-half of the team had never been involved in athletics.

But despite that, the girls team is off to an impressive 4-3 start.

&uot;I’m glad we’re winning some games,&uot; said junior midfielder Renee Davis. &uot;At first didn’t know how the girls team would be.&uot;

&uot;Last year, the problem was we didn’t get along,&uot; said Davis, who played on the co-ed team. &uot;This year, we’re getting along. We’re more enthused to play.&uot;

&uot;We are doing so good. I didn’t think we’d be this good,&uot; said junior forward Tammy Fleming, also a member of last year’s co-ed team.

&uot;I just hope we can do the same next year because it’s my last year and I hope we can go all the way,&uot; said Fleming.

Fleming said the main difference between last year and this year is communication.

&uot;We can relate better to each other and that has a lot to do with our winning,&uot; she said. &uot;The same can be said for the boys. They’re communicating better and they’re winning.&uot;

The Natchez girls defeated McComb, Franklin County, Forest Hill and cross-town rivals Cathedral.

One of the Benson’s earliest goals was to form a separate girls team, which almost didn’t happen because of the lack of willing female athletes at the school.

&uot;We didn’t make a team until one week before the start of the season,&uot; she said.

The other goals Benson set were to teach players who have never played the game to play at the varsity level and &uot;to have opponents score no more than 10 goals on us,&uot; she said.

Benson said she honestly didn’t expect to win a game.

&uot;You have to have a really good attitude,&uot; said freshman Felicia Mo, who has played forward, midfielder and fullback on the girls team. &uot;And don’t let one loss get your hopes down.&uot;

Mo said that within the next couple of years the girls team will be better &uot;because we know what to expect.&uot;

The move to two varsity teams has also helped boys coach Peter Rinaldi, whose team is off to a 3-5 start.

&uot;I had 29 boys so we could build a JV and a varsity team,&uot; Rinaldi said.

Natchez’s junior varsity boys team currently sports a 1-1-1 record.

As far as expectations at the start of the season, Rinaldi said he didn’t have any.

&uot;We worked on individual skills and then on team performance,&uot; he said. &uot;The kids are

improving. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we’re only 40 to 50 percent of where we need to be.&uot;

Rinaldi said nearly 75 percent of his team has little or no prior soccer experience, but that hasn’t been too much of a problem.

&uot;They’re extremely athletic,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve been able to build a defense. We play with four defenders. We have some speed, but no experience.&uot;

Since the start of the season, however, one player quit the team, two or three other players have been injured and two or three more players have been out due to academics, Rinaldi said.

He said he hopes to have most of those players back in January, however.

One thing Rinaldi said he would like to see from his players is better play in the first half.

&uot;We have a tendency to be a second-half team and I don’t know why.&uot;

One player on the boys team who is excited about the team’s good play is junior forward Michael Pace, who played on last year’s team.

&uot;We’re doing fairly well,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s a lot better than last year. We didn’t win a game last year. We’re overall getting better every game.&uot;

Pace said that playing in the summer soccer league and playing under Rinaldi has been the difference between this year and last year.

&uot;He seems to know what he’s doing,&uot; Pace said of Rinaldi. &uot;He’s just taught us all these offensive and defensive plays that the other coach should’ve done last year.&uot;

Freshman midfielder Aaron Ratliff said his goals for the boys team for the next few years are to &uot;improve on offense and defense, win more games and have fun.&uot;