January 12, 2013 11:12:18 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Pace is an essential ingredient for the 2012-13 Starkville High School boys soccer team.
One might think that tempo would slow down a little bit after the school's first state championship team lost eight seniors to graduation.
Dylan Howard wants you to think again.
Don't think too long, though, because Howard, or Charlie Henderson, or Justin Gordon, or Taylor Wise are bound to catch you flat-footed.
Starkville showed again Friday that this season's team might be even faster than last year's team that made history. Two goals by Gordon and one each by Wise and Michael Godley paved the way for Starkville's 4-0 victory against New Hope.
"We have a smaller team, (but) we try to keep the ball on the floor and try to use our touches to our advantage," Howard said. "We try to keep the ball on the move, and if you can do it with one touch, don't do it in two."
Howard said the Yellow Jackets (11-1-1, 2-0 district) try to keep the ball moving to the get everybody involved in the buildup. Starkville did that early and often against the Trojans (7-7-2), stringing together four and five passes in its attacks. The players moved off the ball from side to side on the soaked and slick surface and tried to get all 10 field players touches. Godley, who started the game as the goalkeeper, even got into the act with several long punts that kickstarted surges.
That was the case on the first goal, as Godley's punt sent a defender deep into the defensive third. Juan Salazar then gathered the loose ball and slid the ball ahead to Wise, who slipped it into the lower right corner.
Gordon, who had the game-inning goal in last season's state title victory, just missed a chance to make it 2-0 on a nice buildup by Luke Josey, Howard, and Ben Mackin. After missing the cross on the previous play, Gordon went sideways to use his feet and knock a rebound home for a two-goal edge.
Howard, who was a key player in Starkville's victory against Pascagoula in the state title match, wasn't sure if the Yellow Jackets were going to be able to play at such a pace this season. It didn't take him long to see he was mistaken. He said he has been impressed with the team's ability to maintain its work rate and its level of play when it goes to the bench.
"Everybody is kind of friendly to the ball," said Howard, who was recently named to the Mississippi Association of Coaches Senior All-Star game on Feb. 9 in Clinton. "We all like to move it and get touches for everybody and keep it moving."
Starkville also uses its pace of play as a reminder that bigger matches are coming. Howard said this season's team has used the 2011-12 title as motivation. Even though Starkville only led 1-0 at halftime Friday night, it didn't let up and poured it on in the second half as the Trojans tired.
"We haven't talked about it as much yet, but playoffs are coming up in the next couple of weeks and we have to get everybody's mind focused because it is about to get real serious," Howard said. "As a team, I think we have come out and done way better than people expected us to do. With all of the new guys, I think it is a real good start to the season, so we're hoping to finish it off strong. It is way better than I expected."
Starkville coach Brian Bennett said the team is going to have to work its way back to its pace. He said the team hadn't played a match in a month prior to Friday's match. A match for Saturday against Kosciusko was canceled due to a wet field.
With one more week to the regular season, Bennett feels his team's depth will be a key when playoffs start the following week.
"We're probably a lot deeper and skilled and we don't drop off when we make those subs," Bennett said. "This year's team is comparable to last year's team. We pretty much replaced the whole defense, but they are very strong. This team has a chance to make another run like they did last year."
New Hope coach Brian Meggs was proud of the way his team contained Starkville in the first half. It also had one great scoring chance, but Godley made a diving save to his left to deny the second effort of Jonathan Holley.
"We wanted to try to control them and limit their offensive push because we knew they were a good passing team," Meggs said. "Our main goal was to shut off their passing lanes and to keep them out of synch. It is a really good team. I think toward the end our guts wore down a little bit."
Senior Josh McKay said the Trojans wanted to pick their spots and capitalize on a mistake by using their speed to get behind the defense. The strategy nearly worked, only to have Godley and the defense hold their lines.
New Hope lost to Neshoba Central 3-0 in the first meeting, so Meggs said it will have to win the rematch Tuesday by four goals to earn the edge in goal differential.
Starkville put the game away after Salazar, Nathaniel Houston, Wise, Caleb Gwaltney, David Houston, Christian Kingery and Conner Dunne maintained the pressure with solid possession. Gordon jetted through on the right side after buildup by Kingery and Gwaltney to make it 3-0. Godley's left-footed shot capped the scoring.
New Hope will play host to Neshoba Central on Tuesday. Starkville will play at Neshoba Central on Thursday in a makeup game. It will play host to New Hope on Friday. The playoffs would start the following Tuesday. The top two teams from the district will advance. The top seed will get to play host to a first-round playoff match.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.