January 22, 2013 11:20:02 AM
CALEDONIA -- A one-year absence from the postseason might not sound like a big deal.
But for a program like the Caledonia High School girls soccer team, which has been accustomed to winning district titles and advancing the playoffs, even the shortest hiatus can seem like an eternity.
Caledonia's absence from the 2011-12 playoffs served as motivation for senior captains Sarah Freeman, Kailey Lavender, Taylor Renth, Peyton Stanley, and Darby Williams. The team leaders decided the best way to correct that aberration was to present a unified front and to lay down the law that things were going to change this season.
Caledonia has made good on that promise.
Thanks to two victories in district play against Pontotoc, Caledonia is back in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A playoffs. At 5:30 p.m. today, Caledonia will take on Lewisburg in a first-round match. A victory would give the Lady Confederates (12-8) a chance to play host to a second-round game Saturday. Caledonia coach Jason Forrester isn't looking that far ahead because he knows Lewisburg is a talented team, but he is proud of his players for getting the program back to familiar territory.
"The biggest loss we have had was two goals," Forrester said. "They take a sense of pride in that, and knew if we got better defensively and really pressed that angle hard, we could get back to this point."
Freeman, who also was a standout on the school's volleyball team, has played a key role at goalkeeper. She came up big in the first victory against Pontotoc with saves in a penalty kick shootout. Forrester said the Lady Confederates had a good defense last season and have been better organized this season. He also said the defense has been more consistent and has had a better work rate. He said trust has been a unifying element from the junior class on down and that the seniors have learned the younger players will play hard. That confidence has helped the team play at a faster tempo and to control the ball for longer stretches.
Freeman said team chemistry has been a by-product of the trust. She said the team has gained confidence from its efforts against Pontotoc and Amory and is accustomed to fighting until the final whistle.
"Last year, after we would get down we would not really try," Freeman said. "We fight on this team a lot, not with each other, but to win the game."
Lavender, who helps anchor the midfield, said the team increased its preparation in the preseason. She said the seniors helped make sure the team took training more seriously and that it didn't try to get out of conditioning because a commitment to working hard was going to help the team get back to the postseason.
"This year, our heads were completely different," Lavender said. "After preparing ourselves better and scheduling harder teams, we have come on the field and thought we are just as good as anyone."
Renth, who plays defender, midfielder, and forward, agrees and said the seniors pushed the team to do more than it did last season. She stressed it was crucial for the seniors to present a unified front, even if some players might have thought they were being demanding, because they were the ones who were going to set the tone.
Williams said the fact that everyone has had each other's backs has made things even easier.
"I think we all knew if we wanted to do anything with this team we needed to step it up as seniors," Williams said. "We are all equal leaders."
Stanley said it was easy to be a leader because she and her classmates had extra motivation in their final high school seasons. In six years on the team, she said she has had seniors she was scared of or hated. She said she and the other seniors didn't want to be hated and looked more to set a positive example that would carry the team to the postseason.
"We are friends with all of them," Stanley said. "We pump them up rather than put them down. We want them to feel the same way we do. If someone makes a mistake, it can be corrected. We all make mistakes, and we want to let everyone know what they did wrong and how they can make it better in a nice, constructive way."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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