January 22, 2013 11:23:15 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Mary Nagy could tell something was wrong.
The New Hope High School girls soccer coach looked in her players' eyes prior to the team's game against Starkville High on Jan. 11 and knew something was missing. Despite taking a 1-0 lead, Nagy watched as the Lady Yellow Jackets stole the momentum and beat the Lady Trojans to nearly all of the 50-50 balls en route to a 4-1 victory.
Seven days later, Nagy saw something she recognized.
After nearly a week's worth of rain, New Hope and Starkville moved their rematch to Mississippi State University, where they played on a turf field. Even though the field was narrower, Nagy saw the unity, fire, and enthusiasm she knows her team possesses. The result was a 2-1 victory that helped New Hope clinch a return trip to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs.
Nagy is confident the New Hope team she watched Friday and in a 3-0 victory against Neshoba Central on Saturday will be ready at 6 tonight to take on Saltillo in a first-round match. New Hope (15-4-1) went on the road last year to beat Hernando 5-4 in overtime before losing to Ridgeland at home. This year, Nagy said unity will help push the team to the next level. Nagy and all of her players have worn black rings to signify they are members of the "Black Ring Club." The players haven't told anyone outside of the program about the rings, which epitomize the qualities the program values. The "B" stands for belief in your team and your teammates. The "L" stands for loyalty to your team, to your teammates, and to your school. The "A" stands for attitude on and off the field and academics. The "C" stands for class in everything they do. The letter "K" stands for knowledge of the game, yourself, and your opponent. She said the team has tried to live by those concepts all season to help carry it to the next level.
More importantly, Nagy said her players displayed those qualities in the second game against Starkville.
"I think it was more ingrained in these girls because they had to come out and fight for what they wanted," Nagy said.
Nagy said there is "no doubt" the New Hope team that played in the second match against Starkville will show up tonight. She said the team is excited about the start of the second season. She said a victory against Saltillo early in the season could give the team confidence, even though both teams weren't at full strength.
Regan Hern, the team's only senior, said the team was close at the start of the season. She admits she feels "old" on a team with 11 sophomores, but she said the team's youth hasn't been a stumbling block. In fact, she said many of the younger players have pushed the starters to be even better.
Sophomore Kayla Smith, a captain who anchors the defense, agrees and said the black rings have motivated the team to stay together.
"We just look down and see our ring and it makes us think of each other on and off the field," Smith said. "Even if we aren't with each other, we are still with each other. It is like you are married and you have a ring on your finger. It is like a promise to each other.
"This ring helps in a lot of ways. It makes us more unified and more like a family."
A true test to the rings' worth came in the second Starkville match. Hern said she didn't know what happened in the first game because she thought the team was ready. In the second game, she said it was time for redemption. Tonight, the Lady Trojans will try to play with a similar focus.
"I think we were a lot more determined that game," Hern said. "Coach Nagy told us after the first game we didn't have the fire in our bellies. I just think as we are getting close to the playoff games that is what got us ready for the playoff games."
Said Smith, "I think we are going to learn from our mistakes from the past games, and that just motivates us even more."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.