By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Through the first round of the playoffs, three area high school soccer teams have already received high praise from their opening-round opponents.
But the stakes get higher today, as all three of those teams play at traditional powers in the MHSAA state quarterfinals.
The Tupelo High soccer teams, traditional powers themselves, travel to Flowood to take on Class 6A nemesis Northwest Rankin. The girls get started at 11 a.m., with the boys playing at 1 p.m. on the Northwest Rankin football field.
The Lady Wave defeated Northwest Rankin 6-0 in last year’s first-round game. The two teams did not play in this year’s regular season.
“We knew it coming over here that they are from top to bottom better than anyone that we would see,” Horn Lake coach Cameron Glenn said about the undefeated Lady Wave (20-0), after losing 6-0 in Monday’s first-round game at Tupelo. “Their second string and third string are better than what we see throughout the season.”
Meanwhile, the Northwest Rankin boys team has eliminated Tupelo from the playoffs, in two of the past three seasons, by a pair of 2-0 scores.
“I think we were probably just outmanned,” said Olive Branch coach Ricky Hamilton, whose 16-6-1 team ended its season at the hands of the Golden Wave (15-4-1) in Thursday’s first-round playoff game. “Tupelo, year-in and year-out, is in the top 3-to-5 in the state, and they are this year.
“They got a great team: They hustle; they possess the ball well; they spread the ball around; they got some guys that are very talented.”
So does Northwest Rankin, which beat the Wave 3-1 on a pair of breakaways and a late goal in December.
“They got two guys up front that are very, very, very good,” said Tupelo boys coach Nathan Hall, who was on hand for the Cougars’ 3-1 first-round win over Clinton on Tuesday night. “We’ll have to contain those two guys.
“If we can possess the ball through the midfield, I think we’ll have a legit chance.”
In the Class 5A North girls bracket, Saltillo (15-4-1) will play at a tough Pearl team in a quarterfinals game set for 2 this afternoon. The Lady Tigers looked brilliant in Wednesday’s 7-0 first-round win at home over Hernando.
“I would say they’re up there with some of the better teams that we’ve played,” said Hernando coach Jana Perkins. “Definitely.”
The 12-1 South Pontotoc girls team is facing a familiar obstacle in the Class 1A/2A/3A playoffs: The Lady Cougars are playing a private school in the quarterfinals.
South Pontotoc travels to Vicksburg to take on St. Aloysius in a match set for 1 this afternoon.
“I think for the last 10 times we’ve been in the playoffs, a private school has put us out,” South Pontotoc coach Horace Kitchens said on the phone Friday afternoon. “It’s about time for the private schools to get their own division.”
Corinth – the defending Class 1A/2A/3A boys champion and the last 1A/2A/3A non-private school to win the state championship since 2000, as Kitchens pointed out – will have a difficult quarterfinals contest at Forest this afternoon beginning at 3.
As these teams do battle today, at least the temperatures will be in the high 60s, low 70s for the spectators.
“We’ve been running around in 20-30 degree weather,” Kitchens said. “We’re not going to be used to 70 degree weather.”