ECCC soccer teams set to open season

From school reports

DECATUR — The East Central Community College men’s and women’s soccer teams both open their seasons Friday , at Meridian Community College. The men’s teams will take the pitch at 1 p.m., with the women’s teams to follow at 3 p.m.

The matches will be the first of the year in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. The home opener for ECCC men’s and women’s teams will be Thursday, Aug. 27, at 2 and 4 p.m. against Southwest Mississippi Community College.

Kenneth Thompson is entering his 17th season as head coach of the ECCC men’s team hoping for more offensive production out of his squad this season. Thompson’s 2014 team finished the season 5-10-2 overall and 1-7 in Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division league play.

“We had a good squad last season, one of the better defensive teams in our league,” said Thompson. “Scoring goals was our weakness. In 15 of our 17 matches, we were either tied or had the lead at halftime, but just could not finish. Defense helps you win, but only if you can score some goals.”

Thompson said he has a good nucleus of returning players for the 2015 season, combined with a talented group of freshmen who he hopes can put some balls in the net for the Warriors. The men’s soccer team will have nine returning sophomores, including seven starters, to go with 15 freshmen and one transfer.

“We started a lot of freshmen last year, so we will be a much more experienced soccer team this season,” noted Thompson. “We are always looking to improve from year to year, and we want to improve on finishing games this season. If we have the lead, I want us to play with that lead and finish it out. That is the difference I am looking for this year. If we can improve offensively, we can finish some games.”

Thompson will rely on his returning defensive starters and midfield to carry the Warriors until the newcomers get acclimated to the team and college soccer.

Both starting center backs return in Kellen Clark of Newton County High School and Durham Norman of Florence High School. Also returning are outside back defenders Carlos Gutierrez, a product of Mooreville High School, and Jamar Simms from Pascagoula High School.

“Both Carlos and Jamar are very quick and very strong, and in this league you must be very active as they are,” said Thompson. “This back line will be our strength until our freshmen get a feel for college play.”

Anchoring the midfield will be Omar Gutierrez out of Mooreville High School. Forward Jacob Johnson, a product of Destrehan High School in Louisiana, is the team’s leading returning goal scorer from last fall. Freshman Fredy Gutierrez out of Pontotoc High School is expected to contribute in the midfield.

“We are counting on our veterans a great deal,” Thompson noted. “If Jacob has a good year, it will relieve a lot of pressure off our new players. Fredy Gutierrez is extremely talented and could be a strength for us once he gets some games under his belt.

“Our newcomers are opening some eyes during preseason practice and could contribute early and often. The key to a successful season is getting all of our players into the playing rotation during non-division games so that our freshmen can get experience and mold into the team before we begin our division matches. If that happens, we have a chance to be very competitive against anyone we play.”

In addition to the MACJC schools traditionally on the ECCC men’s soccer schedule, Thompson’s squad will host Andrew College out of Cuthbert, Ga., in Decatur on Aug. 28 at 3 p.m.

On the women’s side, Gray Massey enters his third season as head coach and looks to build upon a successful and historic 2014 season.

The ECCC women’s soccer team had its best season since the program’s inception in 2005, posting a 12-4-2 overall record, second place finish in the MACJC North Division, and the college’s first berth in the MACJC State Tournament.

“Last year we had a strong team, set a school record for wins in a season, and made the playoffs,” Massey said. “It’s hard to compare team to team with 10 new incoming freshmen, but I feel confident about this group. Obviously, it’s going to be difficult because the league is so competitive, but I believe we’ll be in every game we play. We have some very good freshmen who will step in and contribute immediately.

“We made great headway last year. I’m confident going forward we will be competitive and have a chance to win, and that’s where we want to be as a soccer program.”

Massey said the team goal this season is simply to get better.

“Everyone has goals,” he explained. “Win state, win the division. Our team goal is just to get better. First, improve individually, and then the team improvement comes with it. If we work hard to improve each day, the results will come.”

Massey will have 11 returning players to go with the 10 newcomers for the 2015 season, including Allie Turner, a product of Horn Lake High School who was All-State in 2014 after scoring 12 goals and nine assists, and captain and midfielder Megan Parrish out of Pascagoula High School.

“Overall, we have a very strong group of athletes who have bought into our program and into the future of women’s soccer at East Central Community College,” said Massey. “Every member on our roster has the talent, drive and opportunity to make a significant impact in the 2015 season.”

In addition to the matches against in-state community and junior colleges, Massey’s squad will play an exhibition at NCAA Division I Mississippi Valley State University Aug. 18, travel to Mississippi College Sept. 19 to play the junior varsity team, and face Jacksonville College out of Texas in Perkinston on Oct. 3.