Former VHS soccer star Channell returns to alma mater as coach

Published 8:00 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Raven Channell walked into Vicksburg High’s girls’ fieldhouse for the first time in six years, she was hit with a wave of nostalgia and disbelief.

The office she used to pop into to chat with her coaches was now hers. Instead of calling someone “Coach,” players were now saying it to get her attention.

“My most fun years were spent in this fieldhouse. There are so many memories that I have in here,” Channell said. “I walked in here the first day after I was told I got this position and it was an overwhelming feeling. I don’t really know how to feel stepping in here. I walked in the office and it was like, ‘This is my office. There’s supposed to be someone else in here, right?’ No. I’m the person in that office now.”

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Adjustments like that are some of the easier ones Channell — known by her maiden name Raven Lawrence in her playing days at VHS — is making this summer. As the new head coach of Vicksburg’s girls’ soccer team, she’s taking on the monumental task of restoring to glory a once-proud program that has fallen on hard times.

The Missy Gators, who won five state championships from 1996-2002 and were a perennial playoff team for most of the past 15 years, finished 0-12 and were outscored 117-2 last season.

“I really wanted to come back home. It wasn’t something I was thinking I would do when I went to school, but I said this position is open and I think it’s for me,” Channell said. “I wanted to return to my roots and turn the program around, because I know they’ve struggled a bit in the past few years. Hopefully I can come in here and bring the level of expertise that I have and try to make something out of the program. Bring it back to the powerhouse it once was.”

Among the items Channell found when moving into her new office were a poster from her senior season and a trophy for winning the Division 4-5A championship in 2015. Both were just old enough to serve as reminders that the program has fallen far in a short time, but also new enough to tell Channell that it hasn’t been so long to quickly be forgotten.

“I don’t know how their season was last year, but I feel like if I can come in and bring some excitement back to the program even that will help. I know there’s two trophies in my office from 2014 and 2015, but that was three or four years ago. What’s happened since then? Really nothing. We might not come straight out of the gate and win every game this season. I accepted that challenge. But it didn’t make me want to back down or step away from the challenge.”

The 24-year-old Channell was a six-year starter for Vicksburg from 2006-12. She went on to play two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, then retired as a player to focus on getting her bachelor’s degree from Jackson State. She has continued to coach and officiate soccer, however, and believes her young age can be an asset. This is her first high school coaching job.

“There are a couple of players that I knew personally before I came in here,” Channell said. “I feel being younger, I can relate more to them as opposed to someone who’s a different generation and people would consider out of touch. I’m still in touch with what it takes for them to be able to grasp a concept and learn it. Just yelling at someone doesn’t work.”

Work, however, is one thing Channell said her players don’t seem to mind doing. There are only 11 players currently on the roster — the minimum number to field a team — but she said attendance at summer workouts has been strong and players have been eager to work on their skills.

For now, the focus is on laying a foundation through conditioning and discipline as players and coach alike acclimate to each other. Channell said she hopes to play a couple of 7-on-7 games before the end of the summer to get a first look at her team.

Getting the Missy Gators back to where they once were will not be easy, Channell admitted, but she said they do have some important tools to begin the process.

“I’d like to instill the discipline back into the program,” Channell said. “There’s not a complete lack of it, but it’s not as it used to be when I was here. If I can instill the discipline and work ethic, then I can get somewhere. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard any day of the week. We may not have the best group of girls, but we have girls that want to work hard. We have girls that want to be here.”

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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