The combination of a good nucleus of returning players and a talented group of newcomers has expectations high as the East Central Community College Lady Warrior soccer team begins season number two this month under Head Coach Ryan Joiner.
Joiner took over the East Central program in June 2018 after a successful high school coaching career on the Mississippi gulf coast. His first squad, which consisted of just 17 players including 12 freshmen, battled through inexperience and injury to post a 5-11 overall record. The Lady Warriors missed out on the MACJC state playoffs.
"The 2018 season was crucial to the process of building a championship caliber program," said Joiner. "We had to define our culture first and foremost, and now we feel like last season laid the foundation of what we can accomplish going forward."
The ECCC Lady Warriors will see just how much they have improved over last year when the 2019 season officially kicks off Aug. 22 with a trip to Perkinston to face Mississippi Gulf Coast, after a couple of preseason exhibitions against Southwest Tennessee and Meridian.
Joiner is counting on the experienced gained last year by his returning players and a skilled and seasoned group of newcomers to get the Lady Warriors back to the postseason.
"We have a solid core of returning players, some of who were forced to play out of position and out of their comfort zones last fall, but who managed to keep us in matches and pull a few upsets" Joiner noted. "Those players gained valuable experience in tough matches."
Gone from last year's team are three key players in midfielder Carrington Payne, who was lost midway through the season to an injury; defender Georgie Wilson, who now plays for Mount Mercy University (Iowa); and goalkeeper Jordan Havens, who signed with Mississippi University for Women.
Among that solid core of returning players is last year's leading scorer Macey Spencer. The midfielder who prepped at Florence High School started all 16 matches a year ago and scored eight goals and had five assists. Spencer's high school teammate Hayden Sullivan is also back. Sullivan, a defender who also started 16 matches last season, will be team captain. Midfielder Lia Richardson (Huntingdon, England) is back after being named the team's player of the year in 2018.
New to the team this year is a freshman class that totals 13 players with vast experience at the high school and club levels. Five of the newcomers played in high school state finals the past two seasons, and all 13 have competed in the high school playoffs.
"This is a huge advantage in experience for these players to play in a competitive environment on almost a daily basis," said Joiner. "Our No. 1 goal for the 2019 recruiting class was to bring in players with technical ability and match them up with a lot of pace. We lacked speed in several areas of the field in 2018 and needed to address that immediately, and I think we have done that."
"Phoebe is an experienced goalkeeper with great shot stopping ability, and Abbie is a very good right-footed midfielder who will provide crosses and assists from wide areas, which we lacked last season," he said.
Joiner also singled out defender Ameris Taylor (Ocean Springs), forward Brendaisha Garrett (Gautier), midfielder Madison Diers (Ellisville, South Jones), defender Susie Stevison (Long Beach), and midfielder Daelyn Kell (Ocean Springs), who all played club soccer for the Gulf Coast United Futbol Club and already know how to play well together.
"I was fortunate to coach many of these players at the club or high school levels and they know what to expect immediately upon arrival as far as philosophy, coaching style, and the high expectations we set," said Joiner.
Together, this year's 22-player East Central women's soccer team provides the depth, athleticism, speed, and skill needed for the Lady Warriors to compete for postseason play.
"We have a lot of quality players all over the field this season, and we will be much more athletic," Joiner noted. "Our bench is much deeper this year, and the competition each day for playing time and positions will be crucial to our success. Each day, the ladies will have to work for their spot in the first eleven, which is something we didn't have last year due to sheer numbers and injuries.
"It's important that the team 100 percent buy into the mentality that everyone plays a part. With so many talented players, playing time and minutes will be tough to come by, so what those players who are not in the first 11 do to improve themselves will be very important to us achieving our goals.
"We believe that a run into the playoffs and competing for the MACJC North Division title are goals we can achieve."
The East Central women have 17 matches on their 2019 schedule, including home-and-away contests with the other four MACJC North Division foes. The Lady Warriors will also play the five teams from the South Division, as well as host Tennessee community colleges Southwest and Dyersburg State and play a neutral site match against LSU-Eunice in the Rush Tournament in Meridian.
For more information on ECCC Lady Warrior soccer, including a full schedule and roster, visit www.ecccathletics.com.
Members of the 2019 East Central Community College Women's Soccer Team and their respective high schools include (front row, from left) Madison Diers, Ellisville, South Jones; Amelia Whitfield, Pearl; Brendaisha Garrett, Gautier; Emily Pitts, Pearl; Phoebe Tomlin, Bradford, United Kingdom; Mackenzie Alford, Kosciusko; Ali Grace Walker, Newton County; and Abbie Rutledge, Sheffield, United Kingdom; (middle row, from left) manager Terace Donaldson, Jackson, Jim Hill; Daelyn Kell, Ocean Springs; Lia Richardson, Huntingdon, United Kingdom; Leah Anderson, Leyland, United Kingdom; Head Coach Ryan Joiner; Jada Flores, Pass Christian; Kelsea Archer, Purvis, homeschool; Hannah Herren, Florence; and manager Jennifer Temaj, Leake Central; and (back row, from left) Katelyn Morson, Vicksburg, Warren Central; Hayden Sullivan, Florence; Macey Spencer, Florence; Lorin Greene, Richland; Vanessa Martinez, Kosciusko; Macayla Johnson, Laurel, West Jones; Susie Stevison, Long Beach; and Ameris Taylor, Ocean Springs. (EC Photo)