Today’s games at Warren Central loaded with playoff implications

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 7, 2003

[1/7/03]For the last seven years, the soccer rivalry between Vicksburg and Warren Central has included close games, blowouts and blow-ups, and enough intensity at times to make even the most hardened hooligan wince.

What it hasn’t included is very many wins by the WC girls and VHS boys.

Since the Missy Gators beat the Lady Vikes 4-1 on a chilly January night in 1996 to win their first division title, VHS has ascended to the top of Mississippi’s prep soccer world.

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VHS has racked up five state titles, and beaten their crosstown rivals in 13 out of the last 15 meetings, with one tie.

The Gators, meanwhile, swept the season series from WC in the 1996-97 season, including a 2-1 win for the division title, but have won only once since. WC has gone 9-1 against the Gators over the last five seasons, a streak that includes six shutouts.

Both the Lady Vikes and Missy Gators will try to change their fortunes once again when the teams hook up tonight at Viking Stadium in a pair of key division games. The winners will have an inside track on a playoff berth, while the losers will need plenty of help.

“I feel if we can win (tonight), we have a good shot of getting into the playoffs,” WC coach Jay Harrison said. “We’re still dependent on what Vicksburg and Clinton do, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time, win them, and do for ourselves what we need to do.”

Both the Lady Vikes and Gators have had chances to beat their crosstown rivals over the last few years. Four of the last five meetings between the Missy Gators and Lady Vikes have been decided by two goals or less, while four of the last six boys’ games have been decided by one goal.

“We’re actually about equal teams, but they’ve just been there and done that so it comes a little easier for them and we have to give a little more effort than they do,” Lady Vikes senior Alisha Lawrence said.

In the end, however, the outcome has almost always been the same, especially when it counts the most. The Missy Gators and Vikings have each won six of the last seven division games between the rivals.

“I sat through the other side of it, so there is definitely a confidence there, and they expect to win,” said Gators coach Drew Kennedy, who spent last season as Harrison’s assistant at WC before heading to VHS.

Experience and luck play some part in the dominance of the Missy Gators and Vikings, players and coaches said, but another factor is simply talent. Over the years, the more talented, select-league girls players have tended to go to VHS, while many of the more talented boys’ players have gone to WC.

“I just think we have better talent. A lot of it is more speed, and a lot of times we just dominated. We know we can beat them,” WC junior Allen Carlisle said.

Missy Gators coach Kevin Manton, who also coached the VHS boys for several years in the mid-1990s, said there were no simple explanations for the one-sided nature of the rivalries.

“The population of the schools is about the same. I can’t answer it,” Manton said. “I don’t know what it is. We’ve had some good boys, but we haven’t had 10 good ones. We’ve had three or four or five. But when you’ve got five playing against 10 …”

In the past, the rivalry has been heated. In 2001, there were several altercations during the boys’ game. Four players were ejected, and VHS’ Justin Jones had his nose broken by a hard foul.

This year, however, there has been far less emotion from the Missy Gators and Vikings. Both teams won their “friendlies” against their counterparts in December, and were looking at this game in a more business-like manner.

“I try to play it down some to keep the emotions out of it. Emotions can help you or hurt you,” Harrison said.

For the Gators and Lady Vikes, meanwhile, tonight’s games are a chance to make a statement.

The Gators have struggled this season, using many young players while building for the future. A win over WC would not only keep them alive in the playoff chase, but would give a huge boost to the program.

“This is the last time I’m ever going to play Warren Central in a soccer game, so it is a big game for me,” said Gators senior Russell Morrison. “It’s going to be an interesting game. If you bet money on Miami, you know what I’m talking about,” he added in reference to the Hurricanes’ upset loss in the college football national championship to Ohio State.

Meanwhile, for the Lady Vikes, the game is huge just in terms of the playoffs. A win would put WC at 2-0, giving them a huge lift toward a postseason berth and a shot at the Division 6-5A title if it can beat Clinton on Jan. 23.

“It’s definitely a very important game. It doesn’t matter what you do the rest of the season, it’s what you do during those district games that gets you to the playoffs or leaves you at home,” Lawrence said.