January 22, 2013 11:29:08 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The term "Falcon Soccer" is beginning to carry some weight.
Back-to-back playoff appearances will do that for a team's reputation, especially one that won only one game two years ago.
In that time, coach Ben Moore and a group of 11 seniors have helped transform the Columbus High School boys soccer program into a team that no longer considers a three- or four-goal loss satisfying.
"We just encourage each player to do the best they can and to play with the rules of the game," said Moore, who is in his third season as coach. He also worked as girls head coach this season. "The No. 1 thing we try to teach them to do is to trust their teammates. Sometimes it is hard if you are a skilled player it is hard to trust those around you if they aren't as skilled."
Moore is from Tupelo and played for Danny Porter and Tupelo High's 1997-98 and 1998-99 state championship teams. He said only a handful of players with soccer experience when he first arrived at Columbus after working as a coach at Ridgeland High and living in Fort Worth, Texas.
Columbus (11-5) will try to take the next step at 7 tonight when it plays at Clinton High in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs.
"This year has been extremely rewarding," Moore said. "When I was at Ridgeland, we kind of helped start that program as well. ... We didn't have a lot of success, either. We played Pearl and St. Joe's, Clinton, Brandon and we were getting slaughtered. This year, with the boys having an 11-5 record going into playoffs (it is a sign) we are building a program. From kids who don't play all of the time to kids who are fairly talented, it is rewarding to now you work hard, you spend time here, invest in kids' lives, and eventually the Lord blesses you."
Senior Marco Harrison said "Falcon Soccer" is built on commitment to being a team and being a family. He said there have been plenty of trials and tribulations through the past three seasons in helping the school build a reputation for a competitive soccer program where there hasn't been one.
"I feel like a proud parent," said Harrison, who along with classmate Ricky Hackler are among a small group of Falcons who play Select soccer. Hackler will help spread the word about Columbus High soccer next season when he plays at Itawamba Community College.
Harrison said the willingness of the younger players to follow the example the senior class helped set has been another key to the team's maturation. With few players from a soccer-only background at a school where the football and boys basketball teams have had more success recently, Harrison takes satisfaction from the fact the team played Tupelo to a scoreless draw well into the second half before losing. He said that result, which used to be 7-0 or 8-0 against teams like Tupelo, speaks to the team's improvement. He and the Falcons hope to use the knowledge from a loss to Northwest Rankin in the first round of the playoffs last season tonight. Columbus secured that postseason berth thanks to a coin flip.
Classmate Preston Taylor said integrity and sportsmanship also are integral ingredients to the team's development. He said the Falcons have made steady progress from Moore's first season as coach. He said the players trust each other and don't let the team's overall lack of experience outside of high school soccer stand in their way. He said the players have come together on Sundays to work on their skills, and have made a point to support each other on and off the field.
"It is all of us together working hard. That is the key to our whole program," Taylor said. "It is very encouraging (to get back to the playoffs). It shows how much progress we have made from last year to this year. It is very uplifting to have the kind of season we have had, and to know though the time we have had together we supported each other and worked together."
Nearly all of the current group of seniors -- Harrison, Hackler, Taylor, Kobi Erby, Wenhua Chen, Christian Dale, Clay Harmon, Greg Giles, Jordan Miller, Carlos Reyes, and Solomon Strong --have been with Moore for all three years. Miller went to Immanuel Christian for a year before returning to Columbus High. Many of them played a lot of minutes as sophomores and are reaping the benefits of being members of a class of players that helped set the foundation for the program.
Moore hopes people like Chuck Yarborough and Tom Velek, who works with Columbus United Soccer, the competitive club, will stay involved with soccer in the city to help push the Columbus High program forward. Moore likes the foundation he will have next season with James Hayes, Trace Lee, Avery Velek, Derrick Beckham, Konrad Vernon, Dylan Gordon, and Jalen Parker on defense. From there, the building will continue just like it has for the first three years.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.