Gators look to make another run toward Class 5A state championship|[11/16/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2006

For the past two years, the Vicksburg Gators boys soccer team has been in elite company in Class 5A.

Yet both years, their season has ended at the hands of Clinton, the two-time defending 5A state champions. In 2005, the Gators lost 2-0 to the Arrows in the 5A finals at Millsaps College. Last season, they were beaten 1-0 in the second round. Clinton, again, went on to win the state title.

Coach Jason Bennett, now entering his third year with the Gators, says his team will remain in the upper echelon in 5A soccer.

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&#8220I think we’re going to be good,” Bennett said. &#8220Only a few of my 25 spots are settled. We just need to go out and play.”

One spot that is a known quanity is at striker where 2006 Vicksburg Post Player of the Year Michael Cooper returns. He led the Gators with 21 goals last season in a 15-9-1 campaign.

The Gators also look to be strong on defense with Bowen Woodson at keeper, Cameron Curtis at sweeper and Brian Fitzgerald and Josh Dixon at defensive halfback.

&#8220We’re pretty good back there, especially with Cameron and Bowen returning,” Bennett said.

A big hole is center-midfield where Coleman Morrison, an All-Warren County product, graduated.

&#8220We don’t have anybody like Coleman there at center-mid. We’ll try several there. It may be by committee. I’m hoping Colton Handley can step up,” Bennett said.

Missy Gators coach Kevin Manton will field one of the youngest teams he’s had. The Missy Gators have been a playoff mainstay over the past 10 years, winning five state titles, while missing the playoffs just twice in that span.

&#8220I expect us to qualify for the playoffs again,” said Manton whose team advanced to the second round last year in a 14-12 season. They beat Southaven in the first round 1-0, but then lost to Clinton 3-1 in the second round.

&#8220It should be a successful season with at least 50 percent being wins,” Manton added.

The Missy Gators return their top two scorers from last year in seniors Holly Head and sophomore Diari Gilliam.

&#8220I think we can hold our own,” said Gilliam, who had 14 goals last year. Head scored 13. &#8220I think we can surprise most people. Most of the older girls have played together for awhile and we have some talented young people coming up.”

Crystal Davidson, a senior, joins Head and Gilliam and junior Daria Lawrence in the midfield. Seniors Jill Rush, Lucy Matthews and Viktoria Case are back at fullback.

The Missy Gators, however, have 10 players who are freshmen or younger.