Vikings, Lady Vikes look to build on success with underclassmen

Published 9:02 am Thursday, January 26, 2017

For both the Warren Central girls’ and boys’ soccer teams on Tuesday night, disappointment mixed with optimism in the bright glow of Northwest Rankin’s giant video scoreboard.

Disappointment, obviously, that they’d both suffered season-ending playoff losses. The Lady Vikes fell 6-0 to Northwest Rankin, and the Vikings lost 3-0.

Optimism, however, in that both teams had competitive moments before succumbing to supremely talented teams and that both have enough talent returning and on the way up through the ranks to improve on this year’s showing.

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“It was a great year. We lost eight seniors this year, and I intentionally put in a lot of hard teams because I thought this was going to be a rebuilding year for us,” WC boys coach Greg Head said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids coming up. To go 13-4, I wasn’t expecting that. These kids surprised me. We exceeded all of our expectations, because with four seniors and four juniors you’re playing with a lot of 10th-graders and even some ninth-graders. We had an eighth-grader on the field. So we’ve got a good young group of kids coming up, if we can just keep them.”

The two Warren Central teams had a combined total of eight seniors on their rosters. The boys did a bit better than the girls, finishing 13-4 with wins over a couple of perennial powers like Pearl and Brandon.

Five sophomores were in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s playoff game against Northwest Rankin. Among them was goal keeper Chase Graham, who made eight saves in the playoff game and had a 0.60 Goals Against Average this season.

The Vikings have gone 39-14-4 over the past three seasons, and don’t seem headed for a major dip any time soon. The bigger challenge is finding a way to break through in the postseason.

Warren Central’s boys’ team has not won a playoff game since reaching the second round in 2010. It has been good enough to be a playoff team, but not good enough to consistently beat division nemesis Clinton or the elite teams it often runs up against in the first round.

To reach the next level, Head said the Vikings need to get faster and better all the way around. That, he added, will require a big investment from everyone in the offseason, whether it’s individual and team workouts or playing on a select team.

“What we’re doing is working, because we’re able to compete at this level. But to get past it and start winning, it’s hard without the tournament players that play year-round. My kids play three or four months out of the year. It’s just hard right now in Vicksburg,” Head said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, but we’ve got to get quicker. What we’re doing is working. We’re doing a great job. The kids all play with heart. We’ve just got to get these kids playing constantly.”

The Lady Vikes, meanwhile, are in an earlier stage of rebuilding. They finished 8-9-1 this season and coach Jay Madison was encouraged by their progress in year two of his tenure.

Madison is taking the long view of building a program, and wasn’t discouraged by this early playoff exit.

“When we started this thing I told them it was probably a four-year deal to get us where we needed to be. We basically had one senior on the field when it was all said and done, so we should have a strong team come next year,” Madison said.

The Lady Vikes had four seniors on the roster and two of them missed all or part of the playoff game. Amanda Boleware suffered a knee injury two weeks ago, and Lauren Summerlin injured her ankle early in Tuesday’s contest.

“We were running out of crutches,” Madison joked.

The silver lining was further down the bench, where 12 freshmen and three sophomores were either sitting or on the field. The list includes sophomore keeper Layken Stockstill, who had 17 saves against Northwest Rankin, and sophomore forward Laney Smith who tied for the team lead with six goals this season.
Most of the 12 freshmen also saw significant playing time this season.

“It’s like (coach) Josh (Morgan) rebuilding the football team. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for freshmen to grow to what they’re going to be within your program,” Madison said. “I’ve got a pack of about 12 ninth-graders. So when my ninth-graders are seniors, that’s a lot of experience as they’ve gone through the program. So the future’s bright. I’m happy where we are.”

Like Head with the boys’ program, Madison said he plans to put his team to work during the offseason. He said they’ll take a break, but plunge into a summer program before long.

“We’ll take a little bit of a break and breathe a little bit. We’ll just play fun stuff between now and the summer time,” Madison said. “One of the things that’ll be different this summer is we’ll do a lot more games. That is what all of the club teams are doing. Probably half the team is playing club soccer, which is not always the case with Warren Central. That will help. Then in the summer we’ll go and work.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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