February 9, 2009
The championship signs that recognize the accomplishments of the Pearl High School soccer teams might be the biggest in the state.
The number of titles help account for that honor.
Counting their state championship victory Saturday against St. Stanislaus, Pearl now has won five consecutive state championships.
When this season''s achievements are added to the resume, the sign likely will take up an entire section of wall on the outside of the athletic locker room.
At Caledonia High School, district championship banners won by the girls and boys teams adorn several portions of chain link fence.
The disparity epitomizes the difference between the state''s elite soccer programs and the ones in the greater Golden Triangle area.
Morgan Mansfield and the Confederates plan to do something about closing that gap.
After three seasons as coach at Horn Lake High School, Mansfield took over for Jason Forrester as boys coach at Caledonia.
Forrester, who remained as the school''s girls soccer coach, said before the season started that the Confederates would be just fine with Mansfield because he was a soccer guy and he knew his stuff.
The proof is in the results.
The Confederates won another district championship and then earned their first playoff victory thanks in part to a five-goal effort from senior Taylor Chisolm.
The striker went on to become the program''s all-time single-season leader for goals with a two-goal effort against Hernando.
He closed his career with a gift goal off a goalkeeper mistake in Caledonia''s s 6-1 loss to Pearl in the Class 4A North Half state title game.
The loss was something the Confederates can use as a building block.
"I think they will come back and do good," Chisolm said of the 2009-10 Caledonia boys soccer team. "We have a great bunch of younger players coming up, and our J.V. team was just phenomenal this year. They made me wish I had had a J.V. team when I was coming up. I have complete faith in them. We couldn''t have had a better bunch of guys. They made it so our competition in practice was way better."
It''s hard to imagine that soccer is so popular around the world yet it still has so many inroads to make in this country -- and this state.
Imagine that the Pearl Youth Soccer Association had just under 350 boys and girls on its teams last year. Those players combined to win six state championships.
That should serve as a challenge to Columbus, Caledonia, Starkville, Amory, and all of the other soccer "powers" in the area.
Starkville''s boys and girls advanced to the Class 5A playoffs but both lost games to Clinton.
Amory''s boys and girls won games before losing to St. Andrew''s.
But those victories and the two that the Caledonia boys earned were the only claimed by area teams.
Here''s hoping the rest of the area takes a page from Caledonia''s success and devotes the resources needed to provide the facilities and the coaching so future soccer greats can flourish.
An opportunity to play a program with the tradition of Pearl also could help Caledonia understand what it will need to do to reach the heights of the state''s top programs.
"It can help the younger guys see what they have coming up and what it takes to be a North Half champ and go to play in states," Caledonia senior goalkeeper Tyler Aldridge said. "I think it helped the younger guys and the older guys to see how hard they need to work to dedicate themselves to the sport every day."
One day later, Aldridge and classmate Tyler Pounders were on the diamond preparing for the high school baseball season.
Earlier in the week, they took time before soccer practice to take to the diamond to get their throwing in to keep their arms loose.
Next time you''re at a Caledonia or Starkville baseball game, see if you can spot any soccer players touching the ball or playing in an impromptu match.
If you don''t, Caledonia''s run to the North Half state title game could be an aberration.
If you do, teams from this area could start to make inroads on breaking the stranglehold programs like Pearl and Clinton have on winning state titles.
If Mansfield has anything to to do about it, Caledonia will put in the work it needs to take the next step.
"I don''t think they were five goals better than us," Mansfield said after the Pearl match. "We had chances. We were here, but our touch was off and we were in an environment we weren''t used to. This was my first year, and we''ll start getting down here more."
Caledonia will play on a new artificial turf field if it gets that far again.
Here''s hoping that the Confederates will learn lessons from the match so when they return to Pearl they are a more poised squad capable of creating some championship tradition of their own.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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