May 25, 2012 9:57:03 AM
The Columbus United Under-14 boys soccer team continues to blaze a championship trail through the state of Mississippi.
The next step is to build on that success at the regional level.
Columbus United will get that opportunity after its U-14 boys team won the Division II State Championship (President's Cup) last weekend in Meridian. The team, which is coached by Tom Velek, Chris Hemphill, and Roger Shilling, will advance to regionals in North Carolina against some of the best teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, North and South Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
The title is the first Division II crown for any Columbus United or Lowndes County team of any age or gender. Columbus United also was the only team from the Northern District to win a Division II state championship this year.
On May 5-6, the Columbus United U-14 boys won the Division III State Championship. That title was the first time a team from Lowndes County won at U-14 boys, and the third title for a Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority team.
Team members are: Quaid Phillips, Charles Stanback, Will Rollins, Sam Young, McKellar Fishel, Roger Shilling, James Longmire, Daniel Longmire, Avery Velek, Elijah Hemphill, Andy Blakney, Eric Dunaway, Kobe M. Van Someren, Caleb Gurley, D.J. Beckom, Jesse Wilson, Anthony Maleta, and A.J. Reed.
"We had really consistent play on all sides, and I think we're really thrilled to be able to represent the state of Mississippi," Velek said.
Columbus United defeated Brandon 9-2, Meridian 6-1, Biloxi 5-0, and Pearl 3-1 in the championship match. Velek said the latest title is another indication of how much progress the program has made in four years. Back then, he said it would have been difficult to imagine a Columbus United team winning a Division II title. But he credits the players and the coaches for their level of commitment and level of dedication, the support of CLRA as well as the parents for helping the team continues its championship run.
"Four years ago no matter where we would, the perception was we were going to go and lose four games but is going to be a good experience," Velek said. "If we don't get blown out of the water every match that will be great. That mind-set has changed. We feel we can compete with anybody and that we're not in awe of any other programs."
Velek feels that resolve will be tested against the best teams from the rest of the region, but he is eager to see how his team responds. He feels it has a strong defense and a deep and versatile that prevents opponents from keying on one or two individuals.
In the Division II State Championship, Velek praised the play of Roger Shilling, who missed time in the tournament due to ankle and back injuries, and goalkeeper Eli Hemphill. Shilling had two goals and assisted on the third, while Hemphill was consistent in goal and made a deflating save in the title match against Pearl that helped propel the team.
"It was a great victory that shows we can compete at that level," Velek said. "It is neat that it is the first one for United, the first one for Columbus, the first one for Lowndes County, and it is neat for Columbus that we were the only one from the North. It is a great statement for program and for the team, and it really shows it is not down to one individual and that it takes good coaching, good parents, a good park program, and a full team committed (to make it happen)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.