January 22, 2018 10:31:23 PM
Andrew Olsen has confidence in the voice.
After playing center back at East Mississippi Community College, Olsen knows what a center back is supposed to say, how he should say it, and when he should say it.
It didn't take long for Olsen to realize Cai Earhart had the makings of a solid center back. In the last two seasons, Earhart has blossomed into a confident and poised member of the New Hope High School boys soccer team's back line. Earhart played a key role last week in New Hope's 1-0 victory against Kosciusko and its 2-0 victory against Itawamba Agricultural High.
For his efforts, Earhart is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"It is kind of awe-inspiring how I have grown up so much and to see how much I have matured," Earhart said. "It is pretty surprising."
Earhart said he thought the Trojans played their hardest this past week to put them in position to earn a spot in the playoffs. As one of 10 seniors, Earhart feels New Hope has come out of its "comfort zone" and has "done a lot better this year."
"It really has been surprising how well the team has done," Earhart said. "We lost a lot of good bit of our good players, but we are still in there and giving it 100 percent."
Earhart is one of 10 seniors on a New Hope squad that enters the home stretch with an 8-4 record and a 2-2 mark in Class 4A, Region 3, District 4. Earhart teams with classmates Xavier Harrison, Daniel Bradley, and Dawson Vasser and junior Nate Pope.
"He is one of our most vocal people on the field," Olsen said. "He is one of our leaders."
Olsen feels a team's offense starts with his defense. Earhart would like to have tangible rewards from that assistance, but he hasn't scored a goal in his varsity career. He hopes to change that in the final four regular-season games and in the playoffs, if needed.
But Earhart isn't going to let the glory of scoring a goal or two make him lose sight of the program's goal.
Olsen said Earhart's experience won't allow that to happen.
"I trust him on the field to make the calls," Olsen said. "He is that guy who is going to keep everybody in check and organized."
Olsen said Earhart knows how to take the right angles to ball so he isn't chasing attacking players. He said Earhart's vision helps him cover for his teammates and to keep the Trojans in their defensive shape.
"Through the last two years, my whole team has come to trust him and listen to him because they know what he is talking about," Olsen said. "He is one of the toughest guys we have on the field."
Earhart has played soccer at New Hope High since his sixth grade summer. He has earned the role of captain since his sophomore season. Earhart played striker in middle school before the coaches moved him to defense as a freshman. As a sophomore, Earhart moved from center defensive midfielder to center back. Since then, Earhart has found his footing and his voice. He said his aggressiveness and his ability to communicate have served the team well.
"It was a good spot to put me," said Earhart, who played right back for his travel team, Impact Football Club (IFC) out of Starkville.
Earhart, didn't play travel soccer this season to focus on high school soccer, said his move to center back has helped him mature. He said his travel soccer coach encouraged him to communicate with his teammates and he has continued to grow in that area as New Hope High's center back.
"I think since I have been doing it so long they just listen to me," Earhart said. "They will be playing and waiting for my voice to hear if they have time or not."
MHSAA extends regular season for soccer
Due to inclement weather and school closures during the past few weeks, the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) decided last week to extend the regular season for soccer one week ending Saturday, Feb. 3.
As a result, the first round of the girls soccer playoffs will be Monday Feb. 5. The first round of the boys soccer playoffs will be Tuesday, Feb. 6.
"That was huge because we had so many games we were trying to make up," Olsen said. "We were going to play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of this week. That is a lot, and we played Friday and Saturday."
Olsen said the game against Caledonia scheduled for Monday has been moved to Tuesday, Jan. 30. He said New Hope will play host to West Point tonight, will take on Neshoba Central on Wednesday in Philadelphia, and will play Thursday at Louisville.
Olsen said the Class 4A, Region 3, District 4 race has a number of key games remaining. On Thursday, Kosciusko and Caledonia will face off. Olsen said a Caledonia victory against Kosciusko would set up a match next Tuesday that provided New Hope beats Louisville it would have to win to force a three-way tie for first place.
The second round will be Saturday, Feb. 10. North and South championships for girls and boys will be Tuesday, Feb. 13. State championship final games will be Saturday, Feb. 17.
The MHSAA State championship games for Class 1A-2A-3A and 6A will be at Ridgeland High. The Class 4A and 5A games will be played at Brandon High.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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