January 8, 2020 11:44:00 PM
Rubi Marquez knew it was time.
The sophomore midfielder is one of the three captains on the Columbus girls soccer team, but she had never addressed her teammates before.
But after Tuesday's 8-0 home loss to Grenada, Marquez felt she had to say something. She held her fellow Falcons accountable for the poor attitude they showed and the energy they lacked.
"She spoke up and talked about how we need to keep our heads up and bounce back from it and our energy just wasn't where it needed to be," Columbus coach Daniel Meador said Wednesday. "She just took it upon herself to try to make a negative a positive."
For the Falcons, Marquez's speech touched on important themes. The regular season is flying by for Columbus, which now has a 1-2 district record and sits third in its four-team district including Grenada, New Hope and West Point. The Falcons must pass either the Trojans or the Chargers to qualify for the playoffs, and they've got one game left against each district opponent. That slate starts today when Columbus travels to Grenada looking to make up for Tuesday's loss.
Marquez knows the Falcons (6-8-1) will follow up on the things she pointed out in their final district games.
"We will be more prepared as a team," she said. "We will come with great energy. I think it will be fine."
With Marquez's emergence -- she played sparingly as a freshman -- and six seniors on the squad, Columbus has renewed its hopes of staying competitive in its district.
The Falcons had struggled to qualify for the playoffs in a Class 6A district featuring Oxford and Tupelo, but the move down to Class 5A has helped them become more competitive.
Meador, who was an assistant for the past two years under coach James Rush, took over the head coaching job this season. Rush's daughter Maya scored "95 percent" of the Falcons' goals last year, Meador estimated, and when Maya graduated, her father resigned.
But even with the departure, Marquez said, the Falcons haven't struggled much to score.
"It's difficult, but I think us as a team have been scoring more," Marquez said. "I think more individuals have been able to get chances to score more."
Senior Destiny McCoy has taken on a big role in her first year ever playing soccer, recruited to the team by head cheerleading coach and soccer assistant Marissa Hackler. McCoy has consistently been one of the team's top goal scorers.
"(Hackler) brought her out here and said she's got a good attitude and she's got a good work ethic and she's just kept her head up and kept trying and learning," Meador said. "What I'm most proud of is her attitude and her energy when she gets out there. She's no quit. She never gets tired, and she's ready to keep playing. She's been a big contribution."
McCoy started slow and caught stride midseason, allowing Marquez and her teammates to see her talent on display for the first time.
"We didn't expect her to progress so much," Marquez said. "We didn't see that, 'Wow, she really is good,' until Coach put her in."
Meador also coaxed senior softball star C'Asia Grayer into taking over at goalkeeper after the departure of Rachel Lafayette, and Grayer has delivered.
"I just put the idea in her head about playing goalkeeper, and she's just a real good athlete," Meador said. "She's just been phenomenal taking up space in between the goal. She's unseasoned because it's her first time to ever play goalkeeper, but she's been just able to keep a lot of shots out of the net that your jaw just drops. It's like, 'How did she get to it?'"
The Falcons run a 4-4-2 formation -- Marquez plays an attacking midfield role, with Alexus Gillian in a defensive mid position -- and it took a hit when defender Krishuana Jethrow sprained her knee Dec. 17 at Nettleton.
"We've missed her a ton," Meador said. "It hasn't really been the same without her filling that spot on defense."
Jethrow has begun the rehab process, and the team hopes to get a key piece back by the end of the season. For now, though, the Falcons must forge on without her.
Their home stretch begins with tonight's match at Grenada, rescheduled from Saturday due to inclement weather. The Falcons host New Hope on Tuesday and travel to West Point next Thursday to conclude their district slate.
Meador knows it's a tough road ahead, but he thinks Columbus still has the talent to be competitive in its region. The Falcons will have to show it tonight.
"We still have the big ones in front of us and have everything in our hands," he said. "We can still achieve it if we can turn this around after yesterday's game."
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.