Winning the MACJC North Division Title and hosting the 2019 State Soccer Tournament is one of the goals for the East Central Community College men's soccer team as the Warriors take to the pitch for the 2019 season.
The Warriors are one season removed from winning the North Division in 2017, and if they are to do so again this year it will be without the school's all-time single season scoring leader and with 20 new players on the squad.
The team that wins the men's MACJC North Division this season earns the right to host the 2019 MACJC Men's and Women's State Soccer Tournament.
"I definitely believe we have the opportunity to be a playoff caliber team," said Head Coach Kenneth Thompson, who is beginning his 21st season on the sidelines in Decatur. "We need to stay injury free as much as possible and play together as a unit to see this come to fruition, but it is a definite possibility with this young club."
In addition to winning a division title, the Warriors also have goals to win the league's Tom Shepherd Award for Sportsmanship and again qualify as an Academic Team of the Year.
The ECCC Warriors begin play Friday, Aug. 16, when they host the Meridian Community College Eagles in a non-division match at 6 p.m. on the campus in Decatur.
East Central will be without Vitor Gomes this season. Gomes, who will play this fall at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., set East Central's single season scoring record in 2018 with 18 goals in 14 matches. Also gone is midfielder and team captain Francesco Romero, who was second on the team in scoring last fall. Midfielder/forward Hunter Holdiness, who signed with Mississippi University for Women; midfielder/defender Chris Perez; and midfielder Gustavo Barreto will also be missed.
"Joel will play a large role in helping this young team jell quickly," said Thompson. "We also expect Jake to play a much larger role in the forward position this year, and for Terrell to get more minutes as the new players learn the game of community college soccer."
Thompson said four international players from Brazil will join the Warriors this season and play key roles in attack, midfield, and defense. They include midfielder Hugo Chagas (Fortaleza), defender George Mota (Fortaleza), midfielder/defender Guilherme Sales (Manaus), and midfielder Raphael Salles (San Paulo). Forward/midfielder Dorian Cox out of Jim Hill in Jackson is also expected to contribute early on.
Thompson believes goalkeeping will be a strength of this year's squad. Newcomers Chase Graham (Vicksburg, Warren Central), Leonardo Quesada (Forest), Jacob Vickers (Biloxi), and Ethan Young (Florence) all have a chance to earn time in goal.
"With so many new faces on this squad, it's hard to say who may the person to step forward as a freshman," Thompson noted. "With such a freshman-laden team this year, the college game experience will still be something that we need to adapt to quickly. We have a large number of young men who have been playing soccer for a longtime, so that should help us overcome the lack of playing time at the college level."
After competing in the postseason in both 2016 and 2017, the Warriors fell to 3-11 last season and missed the state playoffs.
Overall, Thompson believes the Warriors have more depth across the board this season and should be vastly improved defensively. Add to this finding several players who can score goals early and it could be the recipe for a return to postseason play.
"I believe we can be a productive scoring team this season even though we lost our top two scorers," said Thompson. "We should be better defensively in the field and in the goal. If we can keep the pressure off ourselves defensively, it should open us up to have more scoring opportunities. That is why it is imperative that we return to being a strong defensive team that plays together as a unit across the entire field.
"We also have to find our identity early in the season and everyone learn their role. If that happens by the time we hit division play then we should be able to compete for a playoff spot."
East Central has 18 matches on its 2019 schedule. The Warriors will be the only Mississippi community college team to face all nine MACJC soccer-playing schools, as well as home and away matches with Andrew College of Cuthbert, Ga., a home match with Oxford College of Emory University (Ga.), and a neutral site match with LSU-Eunice in the Rush Tournament in Meridian.
For more information on ECCC Warrior soccer, including a full schedule and roster, visit www.ecccathletics.com.
Members of the 2019 East Central Community College Men's Soccer Team and their respective high schools include (front row, from left) Caleb James, Jackson, Jim Hill; Daniel Zehner, Greene County; Nicky Palisi, Hancock; Terrell Johnson, Jackson, Murrah; Joel Hill, Newton County; Kai VanCourt, Long Beach; Dorian Cox, Jackson, Jim Hill; and Karsten Keyes, Vicksburg, Warren Central; (middle row, from left) manager Marcelo Lima, Fortaleza, Brazil; Raphael Salles, San Paulo, Brazil; Jake Cockroft, Kosciusko; Hugo Chagas, Fortaleza, Brazil; Zane Flaharty, Vicksburg, Warren Central; George Mota, Fortaleza, Brazil; Quadarius Harris, Jackson, Jim Hill; Guilherme Sales, Manaus, Brazil; Rashun Ludgood, George County; Garrett Mills, Newton County; and Head Coach Kenneth Thompson; and (back row, from left) manager Brendon Jackson, Prairieville, La., Dutchtown; Anthony Garcia, Leake Central; Ethan Young, Florence; Chase Graham, Vicksburg, Warren Central; Leonardo Quesada, Forest; Jacob Vickers, Biloxi; Rafael Toledano, Forest; Kayro Serrano-Arteaga, Forest; and Taylor Carnley (redshirt), Forest; (EC Photo)