St. Al girls seek return to playoffs

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

After sitting at home for the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, seeing their leading scorer graduate and their goalkeeper go down with an injury, the St. Aloysius Lady Flashes could easily view this as a rebuilding season.

They’re not.

With eight starters coming back, several promising newcomers rising to the varsity level, and only three seniors on the roster, there’s too much potential to simply skip look ahead. The Lady Flashes are instead eyeing a return to the postseason even as they reload for bigger and better things in the future.

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“Some of the younger girls, as they get older, are more determined,” said St. Al coach Suzie Channell, who guided the team to a 13-7 record last season and the Class 1A-2A-3A North State championship game in 2011. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together. We’ve been close several times.”

St. Al lost one of the most prolific goal scorers in the program’s eight-year history, Riley Griffith, to graduation. Griffith scored 35 goals over the past three seasons and was The Vicksburg Post’s Player of the Year in 2011.

Replacing her scoring will be sophomore Haylee Prescott and senior Stephanie Riveros. Prescott scored more than a dozen goals last season, and Riveros led the team in assists.

“We still have some offensive threats,” Channell said.

Although the bulk of the team is underclassmen — there are only three juniors, in addition to the three seniors — Riveros said the team has played together long enough to overcome some inexperience.

“We’ve been playing together for a while now and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Riveros said. “It’s good not to have lost many people.”

One key loss, at least for part of the season, is sophomore goalie Alexa Baldizon. She’s expected to be out until at least January with a back injury. Taking her place is senior Madeline Thornton, who played on defense last season, but has never been in goal.

“We’re going with Madeline because she’s a senior and more experienced. It is different than throwing a seventh-grader back there,” Channell said.

Thornton said that since learning she’ll be in goal, she’s tried to do her homework to learn the ins and outs of the position. She admits, however, that it’s an ongoing process.

“I trained with one of my friends a little bit. My brother plays in college (Memphis), so I asked some questions of his friend who plays goalie,” Thornton said, adding with a laugh, “I’m winging it.”

While the Lady Flashes have a few unsettled positions, the St. Al boys team has a host of them. Injuries, late-arriving football players and a new coach — Scott Mathis, who took over when Jason Hopkins left to go into private business — are giving the team a makeover.

Six junior varsity players started in season-opening losses to Vicksburg and Warren Central on Saturday. There are nine juniors and seniors on the 22-man roster, but Mathis said the team is a work in progress.

“Right now it’s more of figuring out which ones can play what positions,” he said.

Mathis said the Flashes are also adjusting to a new defensive scheme that takes time to learn, but will pay dividends later on.

“We’ve got a lot of players that know some ballhandling skills,” Mathis said. “What we’re trying to do now is figure out a defense. We’re going to play a 4-3-3 lineup and have a sweeper. Some of these guys haven’t played with a sweeper before, so it takes some getting used to. They need to learn what he does and where he’s supposed to be.”