July 29, 2014 12:51:53 PM
STARKVILLE -- Anna McKell and Janiece Pigg are ready for new perspectives.
A year ago, a shoulder injury forced Pigg, a longtime goalkeeper, to the sidelines and pushed McKell, a forward, into an emergency replacement.
This season, it's easy to read the smile on McKell's face as a sign Pigg is healthy and ready to play goalkeeper again for the Starkville Academy girls soccer team.
"Last year was a bit of a change going from scoring the goals to stopping them," McKell said. "It is really nice to have her back doing what she does best because she is a way better goalie than I ever was because she has been doing it longer. It is good to have her back strong and healthy because I know she loves what she does."
Starkville Academy will welcome Pigg back at 5 p.m. today when it kicks off its season at Lamar School. It will play host to Bayou Academy at 4 p.m. Thursday in its home opener at the Starkville Sportsplex.
Second-year coach Cole Andrews feels the team can return to the playoffs -- where it lost to Jackson Academy 5-0 in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools playoffs in 2013 -- and take the next step. He believes Pigg's experience, McKell's scoring punch at forward, and the team's depth, which is highlighted by eight seniors and two juniors, will be key ingredients.
"I think this is going to be a very good year to see just how far we can go," Andrews said. "Last year, we got knocked out in the first round. It was a bit of a bad game, but we already have set our goals, and we are set to get past that this year."
Andrews said Starkville Academy will have to make up for the graduation of Sallie Kate Richardson. He said the fact that up to eight players logged considerable time with club soccer teams will give the Lady Volunteers the potential to possess and to build a consistent attack. While Andrews said Richardson was a key scorer, he anticipates McKell, Jacey Williams, and a few other players to provide plenty of scoring punch.
"I think it is a pretty well-rounded team," Andrews said. "We have a lot of depth. That is something we struggled with last year. I was drawing up the lineup (Monday) and it was difficult. That was good."
Jordan Jackson (midfielder), Jessica Tranum (defender), Becca Swann (midfielder), Hannah Ball (defender), Hannah Huddleston (defender), and Mary Adele Rackley (midfielder) round out the senior class. Williams and Maris Moorhead, a midfielder, are the juniors. Midfielder Sydney Passons is part of a nine-player sophomore class.
"This is very good year to test ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to set some goals and really try to get out there and achieve them because of the experience coming back," Andrews said. "When you only lose one senior -- albeit a talented one -- that is a good thing when you're coming back with 10 players who have been to the playoffs, had a tough season and fought really hard. I think they are really hungry to really make a difference and put SA lady soccer on the map. I think everybody knows we are talented, but we are really expecting a good year. They want to push for a breakthrough, so I hope they get that."
Pigg shares Andrews' enthusiasm. She doesn't see any reason why Starkville Academy can't make it to the MAIS title game. She said she has played on various teams with a lot of the Lady Volunteers for the past 11 seasons, so she wants her final season with them to be special.
"It is our last year to play together as a team," Pigg said. "Some of the girls are going to go off to different colleges and different states. It is nice to have a sense of unity, and there is definitely a sense of intensity that we all want to win it, we all want to be in that championship game. It is a great feeling to be out here my senior year representing Starkville Academy, and knowing I am going to try the best I can to make that happen and represent us in a good way."
McKell agrees. She feels Pigg's return will help solidify a defense that doesn't lose a player from last season.
Pigg admits playing goalkeeper is a "stressful" position and that "the fate of the game" rests in her hands every time she touches the ball. She isn't shying away from that responsibility, though, after crediting McKell for playing the position "very well" last season. Pigg missed the first month and a half to two months of the season with a dislocated shoulder.
"Most players hate the position, but we're ready to get back and get going and back in our own positions," Pigg said. "It is going to be great."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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