West Lauderdale girls, Clarkdale boys soccer prep for state championships
MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Soccer State Championships take place Saturday with 16 teams (eight girls and eight boys) competing across four classes for a chance to claim a golden soccer ball trophy.
Two of the 16 teams competing on Saturday including West Lauderdale girls soccer and Clarkdale boys soccer.
West Lauderdale is competing in its sixth straight MHSAA State Championship. The Lady Knights have won four of the last five with their only loss coming to Florence in the 2018 title game.
The Lady Knights hold a 2-1 advantage over the Lady Eagles in state championships and will look to make it 3-1 on Saturday.
“Florence’s coach text me the other night congratulating us and he said, ‘Here we go again,’” Lady Knights soccer coach Alex George said. “There’s probably a little bit of a rivalry but at the same time I think both teams have a lot of respect for each other.”
While West Lauderdale makes getting to the state championship seem easy, it’s the hard work the team puts in year round that helps them reach the title game year after year.
“Every year we definitely have to work harder in the offseason. There’s a lot of things people don’t see with running and working out and staying fit year round,” junior midfielder Aslan Shirley said. “When it comes to season time we show everybody how hard we work and let it pay off on the field.”
The Lady Knights lost seven starters from last season’s team that allowed only one goal in the playoffs and finished with a 5-0 victory over Florence in the championship. But this year’s team is proving they haven’t missed a beat.
Through the first three rounds of the playoffs, West Lauderdale has not allowed a goal to be scored on them. The last time an opposing team scored on them was Clarkdale on Dec. 29.
“I think we’ve grown a lot since the start of the season. We lost seven seniors from last year so we had to make a huge adjustment in the starting lineup and people had to step up,” junior defender Rylee Dunlap said. “We had to work very hard to pick up the slack from where that senior had left.”
West Lauderdale will look to claim its fifth state championship on Saturday. Match time is set for noon at Madison Central High School.
Clarkdale boys soccer will be competing in the state championship for the first time ever.
Last season, the Bulldogs fell to Sacred Heart 2-1 in the South State Championship but were finally able to get over the hump this year. Bulldogs head coach Luke Smith said the team’s mindset and player’s belief in themselves is what helped them finally reach the championship.
“This year I think the boys really bought into the fact that we could make it here. Last year, I think they thought there was a possibility we could make it but this year pretty much since we met I told them this was the goal,” Smith said. “I think we’re good enough to win it. We just have to come out and play to the best of our ability in these big games.”
Sophomore midfieler Cal Culpepper, who is in his first season with the Bulldogs, had a hat trick in Tuesday’s 7-2 semifinal win over Resurrection Catholic. Culpepper said he was compelled to join the program after seeing how close they were to making it to state last season.
“I just saw the want from the rest of the team and really bought into it with them,” Culpepper said. “We’ve worked hard, prepared well for all our games and we just have to finish now.”
Clarkdale will face off against St. Andrews Episcopal at 2:00 p.m. Saturday at Clinton High School. This will be the second time this season both teams have faced each other.
The Bulldogs fell to the Saints 4-1 on Jan. 9 with all four of St. Andrews goals coming in the first half of the matchup.
“They have a center mid that’s really good and all of their players are decent,” sophomore winger Ian Graham said. “I think if we play like we have been playing we should come out with the win...we just have to play as a team and play our game.”
Having already faced St. Andrews, Smith said the key for his team is learning from mistakes made during that game.
“I thought we could have played a lot better the first time we played them,” Coach Smith said. “We’re going to make some adjustments in practice today and tomorrow and I think by Saturday we’ll be ready to come out and take care of them.”
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