By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo’s opponent in today’s MHSAA Class 6A state championship soccer match – Ocean Springs – looks to have a few advantages coming in.
The Greyhounds (18-4-2) play their home games on artificial turf while the Lady Wave (14-2-1) has a grass field. The playing surface at Clinton High School, the game site, is artificial.
Ocean Springs has also beaten Tupelo once this season, 3-1, in a Dec. 1 tournament.
Undaunted, Tupelo coach Shelley Miller is confident her team will be prepared for their 80 minutes, or more, in the spotlight.
“These 23 girls have the heart and desire to win,” she said. “The focus is on us, not the turf, Ocean Springs, the crowd, the game … all the outside stuff.”
Tupelo practiced inside a turfed facility on Wednesday. “We’ve played on (turf) enough this year, that it shouldn’t make a difference,” Miller said.
‘Not the same’
She also believes the December game has little to do with today’s match. The Lady Wave’s all-state goalkeeper, Kat Stratton, didn’t play in the two-goal loss.
“We don’t expect to see the same (Ocean Springs) team we saw then,” Miller said. “I know we’re not the same team.”
Many of Tupelo’s players are experienced on this stage. An unbeaten Lady Wave lost 1-0 to Brandon in last season’s title match.
“When you’re 22-0 everybody expects you to win,” Stratton said. “It’s not any fun to lose.”
Wave senior defender Margaret Burleson has tried to forget that disappointing day. “I’m focused on this year’s team and moving forward,” she said.
Tupelo reached the championship game on the strength of back-to-back road playoff victories against Madison Central and Northwest Rankin. However, three starters were injured in Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Northwest – Bryson Rial, Katie Taylor and Lexie Wise. Their availability will likely be a game time decision.
“We’re going to do our best,” Miller said. “Last year sits badly on their stomachs.”
Taylor leads the team in scoring with 25 goals. Smith Ann Chiles is second with 15 goals. The assist leaders are Chiles, Rial, Abbie Banko and Abby Phillips.