Lady Wildcats look to start season on high note against Itawamba
Poplarville — The Pearl River Community College Lady Wildcats soccer team is only two days away from their 2018 season opener against Itawamba Community College.
The Wildcats are looking to continue the momentum they had last season when they went undefeated in regular season play.
Head coach Jack Byrd is going into his 10th season as the head coach of the Lady Wildcats and while he knows his team is young he’s more than confident that they’ll be able to meet the high expectations that he has for his program.
“I think this is a unique team. We’re a very athletic team,” Byrd said. “We don’t have a lot of traditional club kids, that’s caused a little bit of a learning curve issue because they’re in that high school mentality. “They’re great athletes we just need them to become great soccer players tactically.”
The Wildcats will feature a lot of youth on their roster this year as the team is very freshman heavy. DEFENSE The Wildcats currently have eight players vying for playing time in the backline while some are seeing time at the backline for the very first time.
Two names to know at right back will be freshmen Cameron McLaurin (Sumrall) and Cela Neldon (Oak Grove). While Neldon played right back in high school, McLaurin is a natural forward who’s making the move to right back.
At center back freshmen Peyton Rounsaville (Leakesville; Greene County), Malasia Windham (Hattiesburg) and Amber Smith (Poplarville) will be looked on to contribute.
Pearl River Community College freshman forward Shelby Harrington sends a cross into the box during Wednesday's practice at the PRCC soccer field. The Lady Wildcats open the 2018 season at home against Itawamba Community College on Aug. 22. (PATRICK OCHS/PRCC ATHLETICS) “Peyton actually did defend in high school,” Byrd said. “She defended the sweeper-stopper so this is new to her at a flat four, but she’s done really well.”
Windham and Smith are two more Lady Wildcats transitioning to new positions.
“Malasia is as athletic as anybody. She’s fast, she’s physical, she’s strong, but again she’s learning a position she’s never played before,” Byrd said. “Amber Smith was a midfielder at Poplarville High, but she’s been in the backline for me this entire camp. She has dealt with some injuries but she seems to be picking it up pretty quickly.”
At left back, international players Brittney Thompson (Clerndon, Jamaica) and Sashine Smith (Kingston,Jamaica) will see playing time.
“Brittney Thompson has played left back and right back for us a little bit in the preseason,” Byrd said. “Sashine brings in a lot of experience, I'm hoping her experience can help lead and teach the rest of the backline.”
Sophomore Grace Sanders (Oak Grove) will need to provide leadership along the back line as she started at right back a majority of last season. “We’re looking for Grace to be that voice of maturity for the backline,” Byrd said. MIDFIELD International freshman Zigi Ahortor (Accra, Ghana) will play in the midfield along with freshman Kaitlyn Snyder (Leakesville; Greene County) and sophomore Shelby Lowery (Ellisville; South Jones); both of whom are excellent passers.
“Zigi’s 6 feet tall and as athletic as the day is long,” Byrd said. “She’s a freshman on the field but she’s 23 years old so she’s an experienced player.” Byrd praised Lowery and Snyder for their passing, which will be an asset in the midfield.
Freshman Leanna Pittman (Gulfport) will be on the attack for the Wildcats, Pittman is one of the more well conditioned players on the squad. “Leanna’s one of our fittest players,” Byrd said. “She’s a stronger player than she looks and she comes out of a great system at Gulfport High School.”
Returning sophomore Raine Fraizer (Olive Branch) brings experience to the midfield as she played most of last season, she’ll be asked to play in an attacking and holding role this season. “Raine’s one of our hybrid kids, she's a big tall kid that’s very strong.” ATTACK Up top for the Lady Wildcats will be speedy freshman Rena Gordon (Clarendon, Jamaica), freshman Skylar Spears (Clarkdale), whose had a great preseason showing, along with and sophomore Sarah Havens (Hurley; East Central). “Skylar has had a heck of a preseason, she wants to be better every single practice,” Byrd said. “Rena can absolutely burn. She can just fly out there.” “Sarah is a 15 to 20 goal kid, she just has to start believing in herself and we’re starting to see that now.”
Freshmen forwards Shelby Harrington (Oak Grove) and Kailey Gresham (Sumrall) will also see playing time for the Lady Wildcats. GOALKEEPERS The Wildcats will see a familiar face in goal with returning sophomore Mallorie Seal (Brooklyn; Forrest County AHS), but freshman Abbi Thexton (Sumrall) will also see playing time. “Mallorie has been fantastic and Abbi has too,” Byrd said. “She’s a very strong player, she’s just trying to learn the position a little bit more.” LOOKING AT ICC Byrd is looking forward to the challenge that ICC will bring Wednesday afternoon in Poplarville. “I know Coach (David) Strother will tactically put his players in the best position,” Byrd said. “He’s not just going to go with the typical 4-4-2, it’s going to be something that we’re going to have to adjust to. “Coach Strother is going to have a team that’s going to push for a state title and we love to play that kind of competition.”
Kickoff against Itawamba is set for 2 p.m. at the PRCC soccer field. All home matches will be streamed live on PRCCAthletics.com. For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on Twitter (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).