Local soccer teams feature plenty of new faces this season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; For soccer teams around Natchez, there are plenty of missing faces.

Boys’ and girls’ squads at Natchez High and Cathedral all lost a number of seniors from last year’s squads and are scrambling to find new players and get them ready for the season.

The Natchez boys’ squad might be the most glaring example. The team lost nine seniors, all of whom were starters, and has patched together a defense that is made entirely of rookies.

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&uot;It’s going to be a rebuilding year,&uot; head coach Dennis Hogue said. &uot;We only have four guys back, and they’re young guys.&uot;

The team takes on Loyd Star tonight in its third game of the season. The Bulldogs are 0-2.

That defense has made tremendous strides in a short time. The leader of the group early on has been goalkeeper Jeremy Buckles. Buckles had never played before coming out for the team this year.

&uot;I wanted to try something new and I checked my horoscope that day,&uot; Buckles said. &uot;It said I would be successful in trying new things.&uot;

According to Hogue, Buckles has been the team’s MVP in the early going.

&uot;The number shots he’s stopped compared to the number he’s faced, he’s just been remarkable,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;He’s just a natural. He jumps, he dives for balls &045;it’s like he’s been doing it for years.&uot;

Hogue said he expects the team to improve considerably as the season continues. With little practice time &045; a number of the players were on the football team &045; and little experience, the group has reason to expect things will get better.

&uot;It’s a lot to learn in a little time, but they have boundless energy,&uot; Hogue said. &uot;They can go all day, they’re in real good shape. It’s everything you want in a team except they haven’t played before.&uot;

The strength of the team will be in its athleticism. A number of the players came from the track or football teams and are in excellent shape. Their shortcoming will be their lack of experience playing soccer.

&uot;They’re doing better than I expected,&uot; Ross Smith said. &uot;We just have so many rookies.&uot;

Natchez girls

The Lady Bulldogs are also starting anew this season. With only five experienced players back, the team will weather its fair share of growing pains.

But one thing is working in their favor &045; the girls like each other.

That might sound like a small thing, but developing a team concept has been easy for this group.

&uot;We all get along,&uot; senior Sarah Weaver said. &uot;Practice is fun.&uot;

Goalkeeper Tracy Davis, another senior on the squad, agrees.

&uot;We’re more of a team,&uot; Davis said. &uot;We’re like sisters, we work together and we have good attitudes.&uot;

That’s a good foundation for the team to build on.

But the Lady Bulldogs do need some work on their game. Goalscoring has been a struggle in the early going. Natchez has been shut out in its first two games, both losses.

&uot;We need to work on getting goals and our footwork,&uot; Davis said.

This team will probably take some time to become familiar with each other on the field, and that may mean rough times over the next few weeks.

&uot;I look forward to a good learning year,&uot; head coach Lena Yarbrough said. &uot;In a couple of years we’ll have a real good team.&uot;

But Yarbrough said she already sees improvement from her girls as they get more experience.

&uot;They’re getting more aggressive,&uot; Yarbrough said. &uot;They’re realizing how much contact is in the sport. Soccer is a contact sport, you’re going to get hit. They’re starting to get past that.&uot;

One dilemma that won’t bother the team this year is having enough players. Unlike in past years, when getting 12 or 13 girls on the team was a challenge, the Lady Bulldogs have a roster of 22.

Cathedral boys

The Green Wave is looking to get the season started tonight against Wesson.

&uot;I’m ready to play,&uot; Will Carter said. &uot;I’m sure we’re a little nervous, but it’ll be good to get out there.&uot;

Like other teams, Cathedral has some spots to shore up after losing several key seniors from last year’s team, but some things haven’t changed much. The midfield and forwards, featuring primarily returning players, should be the strength of the squad.

&uot;We’re young, but we actually have some good experience,&uot; head coach Rick Freeman said. &uot;I think the strength of the team is in the midfield and attack.&uot;

On defense, there are more questions. With a number of new players, the Green Wave will have to get better quick and learn to work together, problems compounded by the lack of practice time (some players were busy with football until recently) and a lack of non-district games before now. The team was supposed to play McComb last week but had to postpone due to players with other commitments.

Freeman said he would only have been able to field six players for that game because of other events taking place at the same time.

Carter will be one of the cornerstones of the Cathedral defense. Carter is the only returning defender and will be counted on heavily to

&uot;The returning starters are mostly up front,&uot; Carter said. &uot;We have three new guys on defense, but they’ve looked strong in practice.&uot;

Cathedral girls

The Cathedral girls have more people back than some other squads, but the Lady Green Wave is still trying to get some new players to settle into their positions for tonight’s game against Wesson.

&uot;It’s going well. I’m worried about our inexperience,&uot; head coach Christine Krupa said. &uot;But I feel confident about our team unity. The new girls are joining in and they know they have the support of the team.&uot;

The strength of the team might be in its defense, where several returning players should anchor the back line and keep Cathedral in a lot of games.

&uot;We’re solid right now,&uot; Greer said. &uot;We have a very strong defensive line that has played together for a couple of years.&uot;

On offense, things may take a little longer to develop as new players learn to work together. For many of the girls, it will be the first time they have played in a competitive soccer match. That’s a source of concern for Krupa.

&uot;I’ve prepared them for what can happen, but you can only do so much,&uot; Krupa said.

Goalkeeper Abby Brown is one of the new additions to the team. Brown, a former basketball player, had never played soccer before this season.

&uot;She’s not afraid of the ball and she’s good with her hands. I’m sure that comes from her basketball background,&uot; Krupa said.

For Brown, trying soccer seemed like a logical choice.

&uot;This is the only other sport I would have done,&uot; Brown said. &uot;There’s a ball and a lot of running. That’s what I was looking for.&uot;