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Starkville Academy continues scoring trend against Heritage

 

David Miller

 

The Starkville Academy girls soccer team''s goal-scoring trend continued Saturday with an 8-0 win against Heritage Academy.  

 

Coming off a 7-5 loss to Madison-Ridgeland Academy, the Lady Volunteers went ahead 3-0 in the first 13 minutes through leading scorers Sallie Kate Richardson, Payton Allen, and Tiffany Huddleston.  

 

Richardson scored in each half, and Huddleston and Allen each had hat tricks to help push Starkville Academy to 3-4 and 2-1 in conference play.  

 

The offense will get a major boost Tuesday. Midfielder Bailey Clark, who last week transferred from Starkville High, will be eligible for a home match against Jackson Prep after sitting out a week due to transfer regulations.  

 

Clark, who played primarily on the wing for Starkville High, brings Select experience with Tupelo FC to Starkville Academy. Through youth and Select soccer, she has gained experience playing with Huddleston and Allen, among other players on the Lady Volunteers'' roster.  

 

"I hope I fit in pretty good," Clark said Saturday. "I know there are good players on the team, and I think we''ll work well together because I am familiar with a lot of the girls on the team. I''m excited and ready to go." 

 

Clark utilized her endurance and skill to attack and track back to help on defense at Starkville High. Her ability to distribute has Starkville Academy coach Robert Gardner shuffling his midfield to accommodate the junior.  

 

"Bailey coming into the team is massive," Gardner said. "There''s a number of ways we could go with it, but I see her playing in the middle of the field. She distributes the ball well. The players she''ll be around at that position, she''s played with before and has a good chemistry." 

 

Should Clark be deployed in a central role, she''ll pair with Huddleston to form one of the state''s most skilled central combinations. Clark''s arrival also gives Gardner formation flexibility, though the first-year Starkville Academy coach didn''t tip his hand as to how he''ll set Tuesday''s formation. 

 

"Tonight, at some point, I''m going to put the game on paper, assess it, and hopefully put together a formation that best suits us against Prep," Gardner said. 

 

Clark, who has to make the adjustment from playing in the winter to playing the summer/fall, has been training with Lady Volunteers for a week. She said training has been a challenge but it won''t take long to find her form. 

 

Fellow midfielder Jessica Dennis, who had a pair of assists Saturday, is eager to play with Bailey. 

 

"We''re excited," Dennis said. "We found out she was coming and it''s another better player to add to our team and help us out down the stretch. We know what she can do, and it''s going to be fun playing with her." 

 

Gardner said the team will go through a "very organized and structured" training session Monday to prepare for Jackson Prep.  

 

As for Heritage Academy, coach Krisi Boren said an early deficit and strong play by Starkville Academy took its toll on the Lady Patriots. 

 

Goalkeeper Stephanie Cruse had the most meaningful action, tallying seven saves in an otherwise disappointing day for the Lady Patriots.  

 

After losing a two-goal lead in a loss to Washington School earlier this season, Boren was disappointed to see her team''s effort deflate in the first half.  

 

"I think we were very sluggish in the first half," Boren said. "Second half we played much better. We have to really work hard form the very first whistle. Starkville is a great team with quality players on their team. But we were just kind of lazy in that first half." 

 

Boren admits positive plays can be the biggest cure-all for the up-and-down effort, but maintaining the relentless play needed for 80 minutes will take more from the players.  

 

"A lot of it is heart and wanting it bad enough," Boren said. "It doesn''t matter about the opponent''s skill level. I believe we have a lot of girls on the team that want it, hustle and work hard. But it''s all the players, and we need to find something deeper. Even skill doesn''t cut it if you don''t want it." 

 

The Lady Patriots (2-3, 1-2) play host to Washington at 4 p.m. Tuesday.  

 

 

 

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