January 31, 2014 10:43:40 AM
Nothing against Oxford, but if the New Hope High School girls soccer team had its choice of opponents, it would love to face Ridgeland in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association North State playoffs.
New Hope and Ridgeland have made a habit of meeting in the postseason. Unfortunately, for New Hope, Ridgeland has won each of the four meetings, with the last three coming in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
New Hope coach Mary Nagy thinks it's only natural for a group of maturing juniors, that has played an integral role in building the program, to want its shot at knocking off its nemesis.
"The girls were a little disappointed when we didn't play Ridgeland in the first round," Nagy said. "They feel it is a little bit like a monkey on your back because we have to say we beat them. I told them it doesn't matter (who you play) and it doesn't matter who your opponent. I understand it, though, because you want that opportunity to say, 'I am tried of you beating me,and we want our turn.' "
At 1 p.m. Saturday, New Hope (9-2-1) will try to move into unprecedented territory when it plays host to Oxford for a chance to play the winner of the Germantown-Lewisburg match for the North State title.
New Hope advanced thanks to a 5-4 victory against Vicksburg on Monday. Junior forward Effie Morrison scored four goals in the second half to help the Lady Trojans erase a 4-1 halftime deficit. Tuva Rasmussen scored in the first half following a shot from midfield by Morrison, and Ashley Martian and Madison Thrasher each had two assists.
Nagy hopes the New Hope team she knows shows up from the start and plays 80 minutes Saturday. She said slow starts against Starkville and Caledonia plagued the team in the regular season. The slow start hit home again Monday, as New Hope took a "fist in the gut" and fell behind. She said the team regrouped at halftime and learned from its mistakes and did a better job of containing Vicksburg's speedy attack.
Nagy credited junior defender Kayla Smith for not trying to out run Vicksburg's strikers and for playing a more disciplined defense in the final 40 minutes.
"I think the tough love from these two (Nagy and coach Will Taylor helped me make the change)," Smith said. "They basically said she is beating you to everything and you really had to sit down and look back it and be a lot more patient. I think (junior defender) Bethany (Vaughan) coming in kind of slowed me down a little bit because she played fantastic."
Smith is part of an 11-player junior class. Many of the players in that group have played key roles in helping New Hope become one of the area's top teams. As Nagy sees it, the next step is to move forward in the playoffs because those juniors no longer can use youth as a crutch to explain losses.
"You're not using, 'We're young anymore,' " Nagy said. "Even if you are a ninth-grader and you have played three years of varsity, you are no longer young anymore. You know our system, you know our expectations, you know the way we do things, so it is more lead rather than tell you what to do."
Senior Ashley Martian, who was named to the MHSAA Senior All-Star game on Feb. 15 in Clinton, is another player who has grown with the program. She recalls a time when many of the players didn't know what a "square pass was, so everyone had to learn together. She said it has been enjoyable to watch everyone improve and build team chemistry and position themselves to play for a North State title.
"We have worked so hard for this, and I think this is the year we can finally take it," Martian said. "There is so much talent, and we have a very big chance, actually, to take even state."
Smith feels having the home advantage will be a difference in taking the next step. She also believes there will be added incentive because she and several of her teammates play with some of the players on the Mississippi Flood club team, which is out of Oxford.
New Hope has been building a program since 2010, when it lost to Ridgeland 6-0 in the first round of the playoffs. In 2011, New Hope beat Oxford 3-2 in overtime for what Nagy believes was the program's first playoff victory. It lost to Ridgeland 4-2 in Columbus. It defeated Hernando 5-4 in OT in 2012 and lost to Ridgeland 10-0 in Columbus and beat Saltillo 2-1 in OT last season before losing to Ridgeland 1-0 in Columbus.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @cdispatch.com
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.