WC’s Impenetrable D’

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 12, 2004

Warren Central goalie Luke Sellers dives to make a save as defenders, from left, Joe Tom, David Athow, Will Clark, Barrett Burnworth and Rusty Waites stand in front of the goal. The Vikings have allowed 14 goals in 16 games and recorded eight shutouts, including two on Saturday. (Jon GiffinThe Vicksburg Post)

[1/11/04]Opposing teams know what kind of game to expect when facing the Warren Central boys soccer team a grinding, defensive battle.

The Vikings have established themselves as arguably the best defense in coach Jay Harrison’s five years at WC, posting shutouts in nine games this season. WC shut out Hattiesburg and Long Beach on Saturday for its fifth straight blanking.

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“That’s been a big difference between this defense and the defenses of the past,” Harrison said. “They’ve really kept other teams from putting the ball in the back of the net, and they’ve done a very good job.”

In 17 games, the Vikings have allowed 14 goals. In their 10 wins, they have given up only one goal a late score by McComb against the second unit for a gaudy nine shutouts. They take pride in their roles, relishing every minute of a shutout victory.

“We just take it a lot more seriously than a lot of people do. It’s our job,” said Will Clark, who did not start the first three games because of his role as kicker on the football team.

And with Friday’s 13-0 shutout of Forest Hill, Warren Central (10-5-1) has clinched a spot in the playoffs already, with Tuesday’s division game against Vicksburg remaining.

“We’ve just been hard fighters,” Clark said. “Most of us are not superior athletes or anything, just if you want it bad enough you can pretty much do whatever you want to out here in high school. We’ve put some pretty strong games against some pretty good players. We’ve just been fortunate to stop them.”

Only second-ranked Madison-St. Joe has scored more than two goals against WC’s stout defense.

The performance has come against the state’s best. The Vikings have played No. 2 Madison St. Joe, No. 6 Northwest Rankin twice, No. 7 Madison Central, No. 10 Florence and No. 13 Starkville. A game against No. 5 Clinton was postponed.

“We could go out and we could play the teams that aren’t going to help us at all and win every game,” Harrison said. “We could pad our schedule and win games 14 or 15 to nothing and have a 17-1 record at the end of the season, but there’s no sense in that.”

David Athow, Joe Tom, Rusty Waites and Barrett Burnworth carried the defense early in the season. Waites, a sophomore, filled in for Clark during the first three games and now rotates in regularly. Clark did not start until the Nov. 20 Northwest Rankin Tournament, but quickly regained his soccer legs.

“It was tough getting back into it,” Clark said of his return. “Because kicking a football for a while, it’s kind of tough kicking a soccer ball. I kind of embarrassed myself.”

Behind those five defenders is lockdown goalie Luke Sellers, a senior in his third year as a starter. Sellers gives much of the credit to the play of those in front of him.

“That’s helped a whole lot,” he said. “It takes a lot of the stress out of the game when you have people you can depend on.”

Many coaches like their defenders to communicate with each other on the field, but Harrison said his group doesn’t need to do that.

“The communication is all mental,” he said. “They know exactly what they need to do when the ball comes to them and where their teammates are going to be. That helps out a lot.”

Burnworth, also in his third year as a starter, attributes the mental communication to the experience of playing together.

“We can just work off each other,” he said. “We just know what’s going to happen, so we can go where we need to be.”

As well as the group has played, Harrison admits there’s always room for improvement especially heading into the playoffs.

“We come to practice and we try to fix things, so we’re not complacent with them,” he said. “They’re not complacent with the way they play. They love to get better, play better, play hard and improve every time they play.”