Defensive change helps Tupelo Golden Wave reach title game

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A confident Kat Stratton has stepped into the goal box before every Tupelo Lady Wave soccer match this season.
That’s thanks in part to the play of defenders Abbie Banko, Margaret Burleson, Maddie Russell and Lexie Wise, who have made the junior goalkeeper’s job a lot less stressful.
“It’s so much easier to go into a game knowing you don’t have to make a 1,000 saves,” Stratton said. “All the pressure’s not on me.”
Tupelo (22-0) enters Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. Class 6A state championship match against Brandon (19-2-3) having giving up only six goals.
In Tuesday’s 1-0 state semifinals road win against Madison Central, the Lady Wave defenders and Stratton shut down Jaguars star forward Marion Crowder and her teammate, midfielder Hailey Brohaugh.
“Our team knew the danger of those two players,” Tupelo coach Shelley Miller said. “They worked collectively to keep them from getting the ball in the goal.”
Wise, a junior, and her teammates constantly kept the pressure on Madison Central’s offensive stars.
“We marked up tight on them,” she said. “We were patient. We’d let them run and mess up, then win the ball.”
Madison Central had only two shots on goal in the first half – both by Crowder in the final minute. The second half wasn’t much better for the Jags.
“I felt like we played better as the game went on,” said Russell, a sophomore.
DEFENSIVE SWITCH HELPS
A lot of the Lady Wave’s success this season can be attributed to Miller’s switch to a flat-four defense. The team had played a three-back scheme in previous seasons.
“Our players last year were midfield oriented. This year we have players who are good defenders and attackers,” Miller said of the alignment change.
The players thought the scheme switch by Miller was a good move.
“It’s easier with four back,” said Banko, a sophomore. “You have more coverage help if you get beat.”
“It’s worked out really well,” added Burleson, a junior. “This season, in this defense, everybody on the back line covers each other’s back.”
Tupelo defeated Brandon 2-1 earlier this season, taking the win on a goal by Abby Phillips with under 10 minutes remaining.
“Madison Central’s strength was up top,” Miller said. “Brandon’s strength is their midfield. We’ll have to adjust our play.”
“We need to continue to keep our defense up and not let anything through,” added Russell.
gene.phelps@journalinc.com