Inaugural year will lay groundwork for future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2001

NATCHEZ – Probably the biggest advantage Trinity Episcopal’s first soccer team has is a coach that brings not only experience in the sport, but a vision many years into the future to the Saints’ new program.

&uot;This is a building year. We have only two seniors, and the rest are juniors and sophomores,&uot; Coach Mario Leurinda said Saturday following a scrimmage match between the Saints and Leurinda’s Natchez Tornadoes, a Division I Mississippi Youth Soccer Association (MYSA) team. &uot;In a couple of years, as these players are together for a while and improve, then we will have a program that can match any other around us.&uot;

The reality, however, is that Trinity’s team has little to do but build. Of the 22-man squad, only four have played soccer before. The other 18 are, literally, new to the game.

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&uot;But they’re improving. We’ve been practicing over the last month and they are coming along. Everyone is improving,&uot; Leurinda said.

The key at this point is to meld the team together and work on chemistry, according to the coach.

Included in the building process is developing a love for the game and dedication to a new program. But the first test of that was a failure.

In Saturday’s scrimmage, only three Trinity players showed. It turned into more of a practice session for the Tornadoes.

Leurinda, however, remains optimistic, blaming the lack of interest on a cold snap for hunters and the Christmas holidays.

He remains focused on the strides the team has made during practice.

&uot;When we started, we had very little speed. Not much at all. Now, we are improving. We are learning the value of speed,&uot; he said.

Speed, as many novice soccer players can learn, is not always something you just have or you don’t. While it can’t be &uot;taught,&uot; so to speak, it can be pulled from within a player to manifest itself in bursts. It is the same with many skills natural athletes possess.

&uot;We have many good athletes. They are improving. In a couple of years, our program will be very strong,&uot; Leurinda said.

But Leurinda is not waiting a couple of years to push his club. He is putting them up against some of the best in the state during their inaugural year.

&uot;We have to do that, or we will not improve. We must play the best to learn,&uot; he said.

Trinity will face one of the best in the state on Thursday, Jan. 3, when the Saints host Jackson Academy.

Jackson Academy is made up of several Jackson Futbol Club players, an MYSA Division I club that frequently takes tournament titles throughout the state and Southeast region and has produced members of the United States Olympic Development Program teams.

Leurinda is hoping to build the same type programs here, both at Trinity and through the recreational programs.

&uot;In 1999-2000 year, we had 285 kids sign up (for MYSA Division III teams). That was our first. This year we have 325 kids playing (Division III). That’s a good number,&uot; he said.

Leurinda is also expanding the Division I teams. Tryouts for U18 girls and U16 boys and girls will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at McLaurin Elementary.

As for the Trinity Saints, Leurinda remains optimistic.

&uot;We are a young team right now. That is good. In a few years, we will be able to compete with Cathedral, who has been around seven years, and Natchez, who has had a team for three years. Both are very good programs. And we will be very good. We just have to keep improving.&uot;