New Albany soccer going for the goal

When passing by the New Albany Sportsplex, it’s easy to be confused as to why the soccer fields are occupied during the middle of July. Practicing and conditioning in full swing this summer, New Albany High School’s boys and girls soccer teams are preparing for their upcoming season. Both under the direction of new head coaches, the Bulldogs have a lot of talent returning and big hopes for the season.

For the boys, Taylor Nichols is taking the helm in his first year as a head coach. Fresh out of college at Mississippi State, Nichols has inherited an experienced team, with a majority being seniors.

“We have about 11 or 12 this season and we’re looking to those guys for leadership,” Nichols said.

The Bulldogs have been working for a little over a month, conditioning and weight training, as well as scrimmaging at the Sportsplex.

New Albany had a great season in 2007, as the Bulldogs finished second in their division. Nichols knows with the talent returning he can expect big things in 2008.

“We have four to five seniors to look out for if they’re working good together,” explained Nichols. “We have no superstars. Everyone needs to work together.”

Nichols brings a lot of experience to New Albany as he was a player for six years in junior high and high school, and also played at East Central Community College. After officiating for two years, Nichols now joins the coaching ranks and though the goal is to win and make the playoffs, he wants to see his team to develop into good people as well.

“I want them to benefit as a person, as well as develop into good players,” Nichols explained. “With good discipline and character, I think these guys will be great leaders and role models for New Albany High.

On the opposite side of the field, Les Huntington is working with his squad as well. Only when you look at his team, there are only four girls accompanying him.

“A lot of my girls are on vacation,” Huntington laughed. “I’m working with whoever shows up. If one girl shows up, I’ll work with her on something.”

Huntington has a full roster set for the season, but no spot is safe. Each practice, the first-year coach picks one thing to emphasize. On this particular day, it’s passing.

“Passing is the crutch of any game,” Huntington explains. “Right now we’re working on a drill that teaches the girls to pass to space, creating a space to pass to where someone will be.”

The former member of the Navy, Huntington has always had a strong passion for the game, as he played in high school and with fellow military men on Navy ships. Huntington coached in Massachusetts and is not afraid to talk about his most accomplished former athlete.

“Rachel Woo is a premier referee now. She’s been an official in World Cup games, as well as women’s league games when that still existed,” Huntington said.

Working with his new team, Huntington hopes to see some future stars. His goal is to start fresh, no looking at last season, just toward the future.

“Everything is wide open,” Huntington said.

Another aspect that the new coach is bringing to the Bulldogs is a scheme of set plays that the girls can use in any situation depending on the defense.

“We’re going to have certain plays for all kinds of situations, throw-ins and corner kicks among other things,” Huntington explained. “We’re going to be prepared for any situation and whatever the opposing team does defensively.”

With the season a few months away, Huntington and his team will continue working out and conditioning.

“We have until October to continue conditioning, then the season will start early November.”

The Bulldogs are set to open their season at South Pontotoc on November 11.