Photo/James Pugh

The first game of the MHSAA 2018-2019 soccer season is Saturday. Here is a preview of the South Jones girls soccer team.

By the numbers…

Previous year record: 14-7-1

Previous year Region 5-5A record: 5-1

Number of returning starters: 8

Games scheduled this season: 17

First scheduled game…

Saturday, Nov. 3 at 3:15 p.m. vs. West Lauderdale (Laurel Sportsplex)

First scheduled Region 5-5A game…

Friday, Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. vs. Laurel.

What the head coach Tony Buckley says:

“This year we’re going to be a young team. We lost two or three seniors last year and like with all teams in high school sports you have to work with that, but that’ll give opportunities to our younger players. This year’s team will be known for its speed and ball-control.

“We know we’re in a tough district with West Jones. It’s always fun to play them. Outside of district, we have teams from West Harrison to Long Beach, and even Hattiesburg this year that will be fierce competitors. 

“Things we’ll need to work on include keeping our shape, and we have to improve from last year on the number of goals we concede. We’re also working on popping in a few more goals in close games. We’re optimistic about the season. 

“One thing we’ve learned is that we have to keep things going all the way to the playoffs. After Christmas is just as important as before, I’m never worried about the beginning of the season, that’s for figuring out formations and who’s going to play where and who’s not going to play.

“We’re excited about all of our players, but those coming up that we’re particularly excited about include Brianna Gray, Mary Bradley McCardle, and those who will be playing on the backline. Gray will play up top, McCardle will get a chance to play center-mid and develop her ball distribution, and our backline will have a good bit of speed and play a little tighter this year. 

“We lost Britney Gray, who played central defender and signed with Meridian Community College last year. She was a tall and physically tall presence on the back. We also lost Darby Cooley at center-mid. Her sister Delaney Cooley will be the quarterback of the team this year. She’s a strong player who can cover the field. In that case, sister is replacing sister. 

“We have eight or nine returning starters, and like all teams, we have to remain injury free. I know that goes for everyone, and we have no control over it, but in the past, it’s almost been like a curse. 

“The key to soccer games and all divisions is the middle. But I think [the strength of our team] is that we’re going to score quite a few goals. We’ll be fun to watch. We’re strong in the width and strong up top. We’ll be able to go up the right, up the left and up the middle. It will be fun; we certainly don’t want to play a boring game.

“I’ve got two formations that I haven’t decided on. One is much more defensive than the other, but I’d love to go with the more attacking formation. But the first part of the season we’ll test things out and see which one we’re more comfortable with. One formation is not better than the other; its all depends on what fits the players you got the best.”