Heritage Academy seniors Anna Acker, left, and Haley Barker have played key roles in the girls soccer team’s fast start this season. A win today against Lamar School would help the squad equal its win total (five) from last season. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
August 14, 2018 1:57:25 PM
Anna Acker and Haley Barker are impressed.
The Heritage Academy seniors had high hopes for their final seasons with the school's girls soccer team, especially after falling just short of making the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) playoffs in 2017.
Optimism intensified during the summer, as Acker and Barker saw a significant investment from the younger players on the team and a lot of motivation from everyone to push the program to greater heights.
Nothing has happened in the first month of the season to dampen those hopes.
In fact, excitement surrounding the Heritage Academy girls soccer program is at the highest it has been in recent years thanks to a 4-1 start. Acker, who plays center back, and Barker, who plays right forward, have played integral roles in that push. Last week, Heritage Academy defeated district rival Kirk Academy and beat St. Joseph Catholic School to move one victory from matching its win total from last season.
For their accomplishments, Acker and Barker are The Dispatch's Prep Players of the Week.
"We worked really hard during the summer, so I expected it to be better than the past, but I am really impressed with how it has gone," Barker said. "It was a little surprising just because our past hasn't been too strong, but I think we really came back and really proved people wrong."
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Heritage Academy will play host to Lamar School at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex. A victory would give Heritage Academy five with seven matches to play in the regular season.
Acker and Barker, who are team captains, have helped Heritage Academy get off to its best start in a decade. The team's only loss is to reigning state champion Park Place Christian Academy.
Acker moved to the back line last season after playing in the midfield as a sophomore. Heritage Academy coach Tom Velek said Acker immediately made a difference and became an impact player. He said Acker is playing a key role at center back and has helped a young defense come together.
"She is the leader of a defense that has shut out three teams and limited district rival Kirk Academy to a goal," Velek said. "She is a consummate athlete. In weight training leading up to the first match, she was the first player to bench press 100 pounds."
When asked if Acker can be called a "mother hen" for the other defenders, Barker said that term could be used to describe Acker, even if she is a quiet player. Acker said she wants to continue to lead the way for her defensive teammates. She said she sometimes feels "old" when she looks around her and sees so many younger players, but that she is excited by how the team has fought and hasn't lost confidence when things haven't clicked.
Barker has been the team's leading scorer the last three seasons. Velek said Barker's ability to see the field has improved, which has helped her involve her teammates in the scoring. Velek also said he is asking the Lady Patriots' forwards to track back and to work with the midfielders to keep the offense going. He said in past years the forwards have had a tendency to be isolated and have had to rely on their speed to chase down long passes.
"She has developed as a leader and often provides effective assists so others can score," Velek said. "She is the leader of an offense that has scored 29 goals in five matches."
Barker had four of those goals against Kirk Academy, which was more than the team combined to score in its last match against its district rival.
Barker said she has enjoyed setting her teammates up for goals. She said she realizes the Lady Patriots are a more dangerous team if more players are involved in the attack as opposed to having one or two players be threats. That strategy worked well against St. Joseph Catholic School on Saturday, as Emma Britt had three goals, Barker scored two, and Sarah Curtis, Julia Moore, Taylor Phillips, and Lizzie Howard also had goals.
"If I am not open and someone else is, I am going to pass it to them and look for the best opportunity to score," Barker said.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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