Soccer will kick into full gear this weekend across South Mississippi as many of the Coast’s squads open their seasons by taking part in various classics.
Gulfport will essentially be at the epicenter of the soccer world — as far as the Coast is concerned, anyway — hosting 29 boys and girls games at the Gulfport Sportsplex and Gulfport’s Herbert Wilson Soccer Field.
“Each school could do their own classics, but doing them all at a central area lets the kids have a tournament feel,” Gulfport girls coach Chris Pryor said. “This allows us to bring in teams who aren’t exactly from the Coast, like Oak Grove and Greene County, and let the teams see more than just who you see in region play.”
Gautier, Picayune, Pascagoula, St. Patrick, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Our Lady Academy, Biloxi, St. Martin, Ocean Springs, St. Stanislaus, and of course the Admirals are all included in Gulfport’s classic.
As for the Lady Admirals, they should be led two 2015-16 Sun Herald All-South Mississippi selections in forward Alexis Arnoult and defender Lauren Penny.
As a sophomore, Arnoult scored 23 goals and assisted on eight more despite missing eight games due to injury.
“She works hard and pushes herself. When you work like that and push yourself at practices over the course of a year, as long as you do that and work on your weaknesses it’s hard to keep her out of the net,” Pryor said. “She’s just a natural goal scorer.”
Penny should help anchor an experienced back line, Pryor said.
Gulfport’s girls will play Gautier at Oak Grove on Saturday, which Pryor said should give his squad a boost out of the gate.
“Hopefully we’ll start out with a good positive note,” he said. “Oak Grove is always in the state championship hunt, I think if we can be competitive with them, regardless of the result, it will set the tone for the rest of the season.”
After leading St. Stanislaus to three straight Class 4A titles, Ryan Joiner is returning home. The Ocean Springs graduate enters the 2016 season as the next Lady Greyhounds coach, taking over for long-time coach Patrick Hayes, who stepped down in early May to spend more time with his family.
Joiner left a team in SSC that could push for a fourth straight title and takes over a program at OSHS that always has aspirations of hoisting the golden ball at the end of the season.
“Win district again and get back to the state finals and see what happens there,” Joiner said. “Our goal is to win a state championship just like it would be anywhere else.”
Joiner said it took the summer for his new players to get acclimated to his coaching style and strategy, but he thinks the Lady Greyhounds adapted quickly and should hit the ground running.
“That was the main thing. The soccer is there and their IQ is really high,” he said. “They have bought in with my plan.”
Joiner hopes to bring with him an aggressive — but balanced, he said — strategy that will pressure opponents.
“I think we’ll have to out-score a lot of teams this year, but I think we’ll have the firepower,” he said.
The Lady Greyhounds open the season Saturday at Gulfport’s classic.
“I want us to build off of the jamboree (last weekend),” Joiner said. “We saw some bright spots defensively with some shutouts. We just want to see the girls go out, execute and keep the ball.
“Also, when we lose the ball, how quickly can we get it back?”
Looking to repeat
Stone’s boys will look to repeat as Class 5A champs, but the Tomcats will have to do it with a largely overhauled roster.
Stone may have graduated seven seniors, but the good news is contributors like Truitt Smith, Mason Hunt, Ian Flurry and Peyton Phillips, among others, all return.
Coach Scott Maddox said he expects the Tomcats to go through a slight rebuild, especially with several players like Smith and Hunt still with the football team early on. As the season gets underway, however, Maddox hopes to see his team find its groove.
“We’ll be competitive. I think it’s something we’ll grow into. I don’t think we’ll be real strong out of the chute, but I think once we get to the playoffs we could make another run,” he said. “We’re going to have to be strong defensively. That’s the bottom line. We’ve never been strong as far as attacking. We score some goals, but we don’t score the goals that some of these teams do.
“We’ve been successful in the past by being strong defensively.”
Stone will host Vancleave, Forrest County AHS and Pearl River Central this weekend in the Tomcat Classic.
Here’s some important dates to remember:
- Season ends: Jan. 21
- Round 1: Jan. 24
- Round 2: Jan. 28
- South State: Jan. 31
- State championships: Feb. 4
Tomcat Classic schedule
Stone girls vs. Forrest County AHS
Vancleave girls vs. Pearl River Central
Forrest County AHS boys vs. Pearl River Central
Stone boys vs. Vancleave
Pearl River Central girls vs. Forrest County AHS
Vancleave girls vs. Stone
Pearl River Central boys vs. Vancleave
Forrest County AHS boys vs. Stone
Stone girls vs. Pearl River Central
Vancleave girls vs. Forrest County AHS
Vancleave boys vs. Forrest County AHS
Pearl River Central boys vs.Stone
Gulfport Classic Schedule
Herbert Wilson Field
Gulfport girls vs. Gautier
Picayune girls vs. Pascagoula
St. Patrick girls vs. Pass Christian
Long Beach girls vs. Greene County
Our Lady Academy vs. Biloxi
Greene County boys vs. St. Martin
Pass Christian boys vs. Long Beach
Oak Grove boys vs. Ocean Springs
St. Stanislaus vs. Biloxi
Gulfport boys vs. Resurrection
Oak Grove jv girls vs. Gulfport
Pascagoula girls vs. Pass Christian
Ocean Springs girls vs. Oak Grove
St. Martin girls vs. Gautier
St. Patrick girls vs. Long Beach
St. Patrick boys vs. Pass Christian
Picayune boys vs. Gautier
Resurrection boys vs. Long Beach
St. Stanislaus vs. Oak Grove
Greene County boys vs. Pascagoula
Oak Grove girls vs. Gulfport
Biloxi girls vs. Ocean Springs
Picayune girls vs. St. Martin
Our Lady Academy vs. Greene County
Pascagoula boys vs. Gulfport
St. Stanislaus jv vs. Gulfport
Picayune boys vs. Biloxi
Ocean Springs boys vs. St. Patrick
St. Martin boys vs. Gautier