January 25, 2013 1:36:44 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Michael Godley knew there was doubt.
After all, when a state championship team loses eight seniors, including its starting goalkeeper and defense, there is ample reason to be concerned.
But the Starkville High School boys soccer team nearly hasn't missed a beat this season tanks to a talented group of 12 sophomores that includes Godley.
"Last year, they had a bunch of seniors and a real good class that graduated," Godley said. "We kind of knew we would have to step up. A lot of us didn't play last year, so we knew we would have to come in and fill the spaces of these seniors. They were a heck of a class, and there has been work to be done, but we're trying our best and stepping it up."
Godley and his classmates played key roles Wednesday in Starkville's 6-0 victory against Saltillo in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs. The victory pushed Starkville (15-1-1) into a matchup against Hernando, which beat Callaway, at 4 p.m. Saturday in Starkville.
Starkville High coach Brian Bennett said the sophomores came in ready in part because they had plenty of confidence from years of playing together.
"I haven't had a problem trying to build their confidence. It starts with Godley. He is very confident," Bennett said. "He kind of spreads that around. They just enjoy playing the game. We haven't had any problems. They just have been super."
Godley started in goal and made three saves in the victory against Saltillo. He gave way to eighth-grader Wesley Albritton in the second half. Sophomores Connor Dunne, Michael Sullivan, Coleman Bergstrom, and Luke Josey helped anchor the defense on a night Bennett had an opportunity to play his entire bench. That might not be the case Saturday against Hernando, which is expected to have a talented forward and a quick midfield.
But Bennett and some of his players said the sophomores will be ready.
"They are all coming from a Select team and they all have been playing together," senior midfielder Dylan Howard said. "We're just getting it all together. I think this is the best game we have played as a team."
Howard said the sophomore are like him in a way that he isn't the biggest player but he finds ways to be effective. He said the defenders have quick touches, which allow the Yellow Jackets to respond to challenges.
"I played on the older club team and they played on the younger club team," Howard said. "We all know they have a good touch. They weren't used o the physicality of the high school game, but they are getting into it. We have some guys who can get physical if they have to, but we stick to the touch."
Godley, who also saw playing time as a forward against Saltillo and nearly scored a goal, said the class
"My defense is my family," Godley said. "We have such great chemistry. I have been playing with these guys for five or six years. We hang out outside of soccer. We're great buddies. We just know, 'Oh, what if he doesn't get the ball? A guy is going to back him up. We know where each other is going to be all of the time."
That chemistry has helped sophomores Daniel Luck, Caleb Gwaltney, David Houston, John Hainsey, Arman Borazjani, Ben Mackin, Christian Kingery, and the others maintain their confidence. Godley said it has been a "challenge" trying to live up to the seniors from last season's team. That "hit to the face" has motivated Godley and his teammates to be as good as they can and to try to live up to what the seniors helped the team accomplish. The next step to follow in their footsteps will come Saturday. Godley feels the Yellow Jackets will come out strong and ready for their next challenge.
"I know my defense is going to come out prepared," Godley said. They are going to limit the humber of shots on me. They are going to make my job easy.
"The defense gets the least credit on the team. They only get recognized when a goal gets scored, but they are the most consistent players on the team. They are the bread and butter of the team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.