Alcorn St. scores with soccer program

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

LORMAN &045; Elena Cheuva is all for patriotism and supporting her native country of Russia.

But when it comes to this new game of soccer and who does it best, no one does it better than Brazil. And coming from someone who has jumped head-first into the new sport and new program at Alcorn State, she can get a good idea of how it’s done right.

&uot;My favorite team is Brazil because Russia is no good and I like the way Brazil plays,&uot; said Cheuva, a native of Voronezh, Russia, and a member of the first Lady Braves soccer team this fall. &uot;If they would work on their defense, they would be perfect.&uot;

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Cheuva never played soccer back home (only a game called cube, which is similar), and she’s one of several Lady Braves who are new to the sport this fall in the program’s debut season. Former Natchez High soccer coach Peter Rinaldi is coaching the squad that’s got two legitimate recruits and the rest newcomers to a sport where using your hands if you’re not the goalkeeper is very, very bad.

&uot;Out of the 18 players we have, we’ve got two what I would consider as seasoned players, five returners from last year’s club team and the rest have been playing soccer for about three weeks in their lives,&uot; said Rinaldi, whose team is 2-1 on the season and posted a SWAC win Saturday at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. &uot;Considering they won the second game they ever played as a varsity sport is extremely good. They won because they hustled.&uot;

Rinaldi had to start with the basic fundamentals with several of the players, and so far the lessons have centered mostly on defense. The team doesn’t have a home field and practices at the track stadium without goals, which isn’t a problem now since offensive lessons will come later.

The progress isn’t lost on the two recruited players &045; midfielder Ember Wright of Fort Worth, Texas, and goalkeeper Quintiya Miller of Colorado Springs, Colo. &045; as the team has started to come together.

&uot;They’ve come a long way, and I’m really proud of them,&uot; said Wright, who has played soccer for 14 years and spent time playing in Italy her senior year of high school as part of the Junior Olympic team. &uot;We’ve been out here in the heat with the love bugs all over us. We’ve all persevered through all of this to get Alcorn’s first win. The other girls have stepped up.&uot;

The team is spending so much time on defense at this point in the season that Wright is playing back instead of her customary forward position. The defense struggled in their season opener on the road a Arkansas-Little Rock, a 10-0 defeat, but played better in the 4-0 win over Co-Lin the following day.

&uot;We haven’t worked that much on shooting,&uot; said Rinaldi, who starts his fourth of practice with the team today. &uot;But they’re doing fine. What we’re trying to do with our kids is teach them the basic fundamentals &045; throw-ins, passing and how to defend people. What you have to teach them is you have three basic positions on the field &045; defenders, midfielders and forwards. For starting players, they’ve come along pretty well.

We really haven’t worked that much on offense because soccer is a defensive game.&uot;

What’s helped the defense so far for the Lady Braves is Miller at goalkeeper. Miller earned all-state honors while in high school in Colorado and was a big reason for the team’s win last week against Co-Lin with the number of saves she had.

&uot;She’s an awesome keeper,&uot; Wright said. &uot;Besides being a wonderful player, she’s also a wonderful person. She has helped people who didn’t have a lot of experience move along. She has the ability to take the ball away from the opposite team and move the ball to our players. And it’s important we have a strong defense.&uot;

The defense may help out the Lady Braves as they move further along in their schedule. Saturday’s win over UAPB was their third game of the season, and they’ll play six more SWAC games along with an Oct. 13 date at Co-Lin and Oct. 15 at Centenary before wrapping up the season Oct. 26 at UAPB.

The team will travel for all its remaining six games, and the plans for next year may include a home field either in Brookhaven or in Natchez.

&uot;We’ve got a lot of work to do and some tough teams on our schedule,&uot; Rinaldi said. &uot;We’ll have to give 100 percent in order to be competitive in the SWAC. What I expect we’ll be doing by the end of October is we will start to play some really good soccer. For the new players it’ll take two seasons where they feel confident and know what they’re doing.&uot;