February 5, 2018 10:36:46 AM
Chuck Yarborough realized five years ago that developing chemistry on the girls soccer team was going to be his biggest challenge at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.
Yarborough, who also teaches History at MSMS, knows trust is an integral component on any team. But Yarborough doesn't have the luxury of being able to coach players who have grown up together playing soccer. At MSMS, Yarborough has a new roster every year because the school in Columbus is for juniors and seniors.
Yarborough also usually has his share of players who are new to the game, which complicates matters when you're trying to blend personalities and skill sets into a cohesive unit.
That's why Yarborough developed a "gimmick" to help his players get to know each other. As the first part to learn about their new teammates, Yarborough asks his players to memorize the middle names of their teammates. He asks the players to do this by shouting out their middle names while they run laps. He then will pick out a player at random and ask her to tell him the middle name of one of her teammates. If the player remembers, the team stops running. If the player can't recall the player's name, the team keeps running.
"It is all about team chemistry," Yarborough said. "By the third practice, the players have 100 percent success rate remembering the middle names. The first time we do it, it is kind of 50 percent. By the time we have our third practice, they know each others' names. It is a gimmicky way for me to reinforce getting to know each other so they trust each other."
Yarborough's "gimmick" has proven especially helpful this season for the MSMS girls soccer team, which finished 9-3-1 and 4-2 in the Class 1A-2A-3A Region 4. The finish secured MSMS a spot in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) playoffs, which will begin at 6 tonight with a match at South Pontotoc.
Yarborough credits senior captains Sydney Matrisciano, who is from Winona, Sarah Swiderski, who is from Starkville, and Sara Kostmayer, who is from Biloxi, for playing key roles in fostering the chemistry that has gotten stronger since the first day of practice. He said Matrisciano, Swiderski, Kostmayer, and the other seniors have been patient and understanding with their less experienced teammates and helped them grow at practice.
That chemistry has been crucial because Yarborough said MSMS started three players who had never played soccer prior to this season in its last regular-season match against Neshoba Central.
Yarborough also credits his juniors for buying into the importance of team chemistry. He said the seniors and juniors have worked together to ensure the Lady Waves support each other and to build the team culture.
"I knew from the beginning of the year that we had the leadership," Yarborough said. "I had a sense early on that we had enough talent and athletic ability and spirit to have a special season."
Matrisciano, a midfielder, missed last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. The seriousness of her injury, which also included torn medial and posterior cruciate ligaments and torn meniscus, left her doubting if she would be able to play her senior season. But she said her surgeon and the support staff at Rehab at Work did extra rehabilitation with her and were gracious with their time and resources to pave the way for her return to the field. She, too, agrees the players have worked together to create team spirit and chemistry.
"I think the senior class has been integral to ease that transition to the community and to the team," said Matrisciano, whose middle name is Anne.
Erin Williams, a junior forward from Hattiesburg, leads the team in goals. She said it took two or three practices before she knew all the middle names of her teammates. She that exercise helped the players bond because they all love soccer and school.
"I think we all relate to each other," said Williams, whose middle name is Victoria. "A bunch of us we just click. We are already friends, so we have fun playing with each other and we all have a love for academics because we're at this school and we bond. If someone is struggling at chemistry, there is going to be a teammate to help you with a subject."
Wypyski, a junior midfielder who played soccer at Our Lady Academy in Bay St. Louis, said that applies to soccer, too. She said the Lady Waves have helped keep the game fun for everyone. She said that mind-set allowed all of the players to get extremely close and keep the negativity out.
It also helped the other players remember Wypyski's middle name: Scout. Wypyski, who is originally from Southern California, said she thinks she received the name because "To Kill a Mockingbird" is her mother's favorite book.
Wypyski said the Lady Waves overcame the initial "weird" feelings about learning the middle names of their teammates and now look at it as a key reason for their chemistry. She credits Yarborough for using the exercise to bring the players together.
"We are a very unified team," Wypyski said. "We work well on and off the field. We're not only growing in skill level but we're growing in confidence and attitudes on the field. We're also growing as people."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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