September 12, 2010 12:39:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy soccer coach Robert Gardner believes he''s found the perfect assistant coach for the Volunteers'' upcoming season.
Gardner is currently in the middle of the Lady Vols'' soccer season, but wasted no time in hiring former Caledonia High School and East Mississippi Community College standout Louis Alexander to his coaching staff.
Gardner, whose lauded the contributions of current Lady Volunteers assistant and former Mississippi State player Katelyn Graben, was keen to hire a boys'' assistant who brought collegiate experience to the training ground.
Alexander scored nine goals in his two seasons at EMCC before finishing his playing career in 2007. Alexander starred as an attacking midfielder and holding midfielder at EMCC. He spent one year at Caledonia after moving from Kentish Town in Northwest London, England.
As a youth, Alexander thrived in a soccer-rich country before spending time in Arkansas, and later moving back to England before landing in Caledonia.
Impressed by Alexander''s knowledge and culture, Gardner said the choice of Alexander was easy.
"Growing up in a soccer culture is important in teaching the game at a higher level," Gardner said. "When I talk about certain things we''re going to do, there needs to be a fine understanding. I don''t want to have to sit down and explain things, and with Louis that won''t be a problem."
Alexander has a year of coaching experience under his belt after serving as an assistant to Morgan Mansfield at Caledonia in 2009-10. Alexander helped lead Caledonia to an 11-5 record and a berth in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
The former Caledonia marksman entertained the idea of replacing Mansfield, who left to go to fill Gardner''s old post at Center Hill. But with one year remaining to complete his undergraduate degree at Mississippi State, Alexander was uncertain about his chances of getting the job. And rather than going through another year of commuting from Starkville to Caledonia for a second year as a volunteer assistant, Alexander opted to work with Gardner and the Vols.
"It was a tough decision because I love those kids as much as they love me," Alexander said. "But with coaching comes decisions like this. As a student at State this gives me the chance to be here in the same town as Robert, which will help the both of us.
"I''m excited about this opportunity to coach at Starkville Academy."
Gardner is unsure of what roles he and Alexander will share in training as the Vols are still a month away from preseason workouts. With experience as an offensive player, Alexander''s tutelage could be used to help rebuild a midfield that replaces Itawamba Community College signees Will Goodwin and Roy Miles. Wing player Frankie Jones also must be replaced from last year''s team, which finished the regular season undefeated.
"When it comes to coaching, that''s when my player personality is brought to the surface," Alexander said. "I''m not one to sit back; I like to get out there and show it. I was hungry and scrappy, and I played the game fast. I think my style of play easily translates to coaching."
Gardner, who led Center Hill to the Class 5A North State title game last season, said he relates to Alexander as a former college player and burgeoning teacher of the game.
"A few years ago, I was in the same position Louis was," Gardner said. "I see a lot of myself in him as far as aspirations and ambitions. He''s real gung ho, and I''m excited about getting him involved with me."