February 10, 2010 12:44:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- There isn''t much left for Starkville Academy''s soccer team to do this season besides hoisting the state championship trophy.
At 10-0 and with a plus-47 goal differential this season, the Volunteers enter today''s Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA playoff tie against Jackson Prep (11-7) as favorites. The No. 1-seeded Vols have mowed through opponents and closed tight games this season, putting down more expectations to bring the program its first piece of hardware since the 2005 squad topped the then-MPSA ranks.
The anticipation leading up to today''s 3 p.m. kickoff at the Starkville Sportsplex hasn''t rattled the team down the stretch. Artie Cosby''s squad is built around nine seniors, which is why he feels his team needs no talking to about avoiding a letdown.
It''s been business from Day 1 for the first-year coach, who has orchestrated one of MAIS'' best turnarounds this year.
The delight for Cosby has been his team not hitting a wall and maximizing its potential. He knew early on the Volunteers'' talent would always be a factor, so all he and assistant Kevin Lanford had to do was point the players in the right direction.
Today''s match is for a trip to Saturday''s final, which is hosted by the North Half team and would be at the Sportsplex should SA defeat Prep. With what''s at stake, Cosby admits there isn''t much left to say.
"I thought we came back after Christmas against Washington and played pretty flat," Cosby said. "That one game was the low point of our season, and we actually won that game. Since then, we''re passing the ball better and the kids have given everything every time we needed it, so I''m not out there trying to give a motivational speech before the game. I''ve never had to coach effort with these guys."
The Vols'' confidence is boosted by the fact Washington School, whom SA beat twice this season, beat Prep 2-1 on Jan. 27. Then, there''s last year''s 6-0 drubbing the Vols suffered at home to Prep.
SA forward/midfielder Will Goodwin, who along with fellow senior midfielder Roy Miles signed with Itawamba Community College soccer last week, looks at last year''s result as old news and warned of a much tougher test today.
"It''s like it didn''t even mean anything because we''ve got a completely different team, the formation we run, and the style we play," Goodwin said. "We just feel like what we''ve got is better than what they''ve got."
It''s a bold statement considering the weight of today''s match and the expectations involved, not just within the team but around the SA campus.
The 2009-10 school year hasn''t been the kindest for boys athletics, as the football team went winless and the basketball team finished with one win
Needless to say, a boys sport with a good chance to bring home a state title has everyone''s attention.
"This is the first boys game all year, besides maybe the Ackerman football game, that people are eager to come out and watch," said senior goalkeeper Herston Williamson, who along with several SA soccer starters played football last fall. "The one thing I like about our team is that a lot of times with Starkville Academy sports, if you see a J or Prep on a jersey you get a little intimidated. But this team really doesn''t care what you have on the front of your jersey. JA or Prep, who cares? We knew we''re good and we can go out and compete with anybody."
SA''s strength lies through the middle with Goodwin and Miles at central midfield and forward and Jake Read in center defense. Breaking down Prep for scoring chances will be a challenge, Cosby said Tuesday before his team practiced indoors. SA is coming off a 2-1 win against Lamar School in its last match.
"They''ve got a really strong back line with four guys who really possess the ball well," Cosby said. "A lot of their offense starts from their back line and they try to possess it and switch fields, so we''ve been telling our guys to pressure them. Our offensive guys are going to have to play an aggressive defensive ball in transition and not just watch the ball go back.
"They''ve got a strong defense, but I think we''ve got as strong an offense as anybody in the state. I''m excited about that matchup."