PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast women's soccer coach Jackie Rhodes has a lot of new faces on her 2018 Lady Bulldogs squad, but the talent in the group makes concerns about experience easier to swallow.
"There's a lot of freshmen, 16 freshmen," she said. "It's going to be a very inexperienced team, but they are good soccer players. There's a possibility of them competing for a championship, and I think they are capable of doing it. It'll be fun."
The new season starts Saturday with a scrimmage at William Carey at 10 a.m. LSU-Alexandria visits the MGCCC Soccer Complex on Aug. 19 for another scrimmage scheduled for 2 p.m.
The Lady Bulldogs' first regular-season game is the MACJC South Division kickoff against archrival Pearl River on Aug. 31. Start time in Perkinston is 5 p.m. Season tickets are available for $30 at http://www.mgcccbulldogs.com/tickets.
The 2017 team finished 7-5-3 and advanced to the postseason, where the made it to the MACJC semifinals. They were eliminated in penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie against Jones County, the eventual state champion.
The bulk of Gulf Coast's experience returns in defensive roles. Haley Lott (So., Gulfport/West Harrison) and Chascidi Martin (So., Byram/Terry) combined to start 12 games at keeper last season. Each had goals-against averages of 1.13 or better.
"Haley will be the starter, but Chascidi is very competitive," Rhodes said. "She started a lot of games for us last year because of injury, and I'm expecting her to have the same mentality and be ready to come in at any moment."
"Our left back, Curissa Beatty (So., Biloxi/Biloxi) is very strong defensively as well as offensively," Rhodes said.
Mikayla Martin (Fr., Gulfport/West Harrison) figures to start the season at right back, and the rest of the 11 figure to be freshmen. Hannah Helms (Fr., Southaven/Southaven) will be the holding midfielder.
"We have a very offensive team," Rhodes said. "We have a lot of new midfielders coming in. Our entire attack will be freshmen Their creative ability will be something fun to watch."
Cass Couch (Fr., Pass Christian/Pass Christian) is a fluid player who will be counted on to make passes to start the offense, and Jade Bernet (Fr., Alicante, Spain/Narrabundah) is the other attacking midfielder.
"She's probably the strongest player on the field," Rhodes said. "She's super creative. We just want her to do her thing, be creative with the ball and generate chances."
The other two internationals figure to play at striker. They're both English, talented and powerful strikers of the ball, but there are significant differences in their style. Chloe Fell (Fr., Bury England/Woodhey) is a 6-foot tall center striker, while Paris Payne (Fr., Southampton England/Saints Foundation) will play on the right.
"The good news is that all of our internationals are attacking players, which is what we were missing last year," Rhodes said. "We didn't have a lot of scoring threat. We're looking for that to be different this year."
She said if she and her staff can keep the defense solid, the Bulldogs will be successful. There is better depth this year to provide quality minutes, something that was lacking last year and which caused problems with a rash of injuries.
Normally, a coach would be concerned about having so few sophomores to count on in a lineup. But those concerns are allayed by the amount of talent on the roster, as well as the fact that most of her opponents will have similar squad experience.
"The South Division has a ton of freshmen," Rhodes said. "I think we're pretty even in terms of inexperience. I think all of us are going to have new teams and the South will be up for grabs. I don't think you can give it to one team right now."
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