n Eight of his players were named all-area as well
BY JOHN WILBERT
TUPELO – There is an energetic young coach in Monroe County who is improving high school soccer in Northeast Mississippi.
After starting New Albany High School’s girls soccer program four years ago and coaching New Albany’s boys for seven seasons, Nathan Clayton found himself in his first year as the head coach of the Amory High School boys and girls soccer programs.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave New Albany,” said Clayton, who attended W. P. Daniel High School in New Albany. “It was just a great opportunity.
“Both schools have good programs. It (Amory) was one of a couple of places if a position opened up you would be interested in at least talking to.
“There’s great support from both places. It just felt like it was the right move to make.”
This past season Clayton, 27, coached both Amory teams to the MHSAA Class 1A/2A/3A state quarterfinals where they lost to Jackson-area powerhouse St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
The St. Andrew’s girls team went on to win the state title for the second straight year.
Getting closer to goal
“Amory’s made it to the quarterfinals before,” said Clayton, the 2009 Daily Journal Coach of the Year. “We haven’t made it past the quarterfinals yet and hopefully that’s something that we can fix here pretty soon. We were very close to getting past it this year.”
Nonetheless, both Amory teams finished with winning records (boys 12-7, girls 11-8).
What was really impressive about the Amory teams in 2009 was the run they made in the last three weeks of the season. On Jan. 9, both Amory teams were 4-6 after being shut out by Tupelo.
The Amory boys responded by the winning their next eight games, while the Lady Panthers won seven of their next eight.
“There was a little bit of a growing period there, especially early on in the season,” Clayton said. “But we really came on especially in January and played some good soccer. Right after the Tupelo games we really turned it on.
“We had a lot of young kids that really contributed for us this year. I think both senior groups did a great job this year helping us and getting us in good position at the backstretch (of the season).”
The Amory soccer teams will move up to Class 4A next season, and competing against Class 4A teams is nothing new to Clayton; New Albany was a 4A team.
“I always enjoy playing Nathan,” said Marty Pettit, the head coach of Class 4A Pontotoc’s boys and girls soccer teams. “I enjoy playing him because his teams always have good character.
“I think Nathan is as bright of a coach as there is in Northeast Mississippi. Amory was very fortunate to get Nathan.”