August 7, 2009 9:26:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
The championship feeling still lingers in Krisi Boren''s mind.
A year ago, the Heritage Academy girls soccer team had a season to remember, falling to River Oaks (Monroe, La.) in its first appearance in a Mississippi Private School Association (now MAIS) state title match.
The landscape will be different this season for the Lady Patriots.
Heritage Academy, which finished 11-4 last season, will move from Division II to Division I this season. The transition means tougher divisional games against the likes of Starkville Academy, Pillow Academy,Washington School, and Magnolia Heights.
Boren believes her team, which kicks off the season at 4 p.m. today at Marshall Academy, will be ready for the challenge, even though it lost four senior leaders to graduation.
"I think the work ethic they learned last year (will carry over)," said Boren, who is in her second season as the team''s coach. "They learned what they had to do at practice and how hard they needed to work. They realized it didn''t come easy, and I think some of the older girls have picked up on that and have taught the younger girls and the newcomers about hard work and passion."
Heritage Academy will have to find replacements for Ashley Vallette, Mary Cox, Nikki Asadi, and Adrian Wise. The team also lost defender Morgan Hardin, who transferred to New Hope High.
Boren said those players helped set the tone in what proved to be a wonderful season that exceeded expectations.
This season, she hopes players like seniors Jessee Mims, Elena Marchak, Emily McConnell, junior goalkeeper Stephanie Cruse, and freshman forward Tori Fields, just to name a few can play key roles to help the program build on its title run.
"I feel confident going into (today''s match) and really anxious to see what works good, how they work together, and if we need to move girls around," Boren said. "We have so many new girls on the team that we need to learn how to work off each other."
Boren said nine new players have joined the team. That youth and inexperience could lead to some growing pains, especially against Division I competition, but Boren and McConnell believe the higher level of play will help the team in the long run.
"Last season, we did really good and went really far all and we learned to work as a team," McConnell said. "I think that helped us improve and we saw what it was like to go that far, and that will help (the older girls) show the younger girls we can get out there and do it."
Senior Morgan Lamb, who like Mims also plays softball, Sydney Ellis, Avery Phillips, Cara Pridmore, Katy Whitman, and Ashley Brooks are some of the other players who will compete for playing time.
Boren''s goal is to mix the experience levels with plenty of hard work and commitment to produce results. She said the team can''t afford to rest on the laurels of reaching the state title game last year and that it has to raise its level of play.
"I believe it''s going to be a tough challenge, but if we work as a team we can do it," McConnell said. "I think playing those teams will help us improve whether we win or lose."
Said Boren, "I have been very pleased so far, even with the girls who have never played. They have really caught on and really impressed me with the way they have learned.
"We have to put last year behind us. I still count it as a blessing. It was awesome, but we have a lot of things to focus on to be successful because of the teams we play."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.