The Lady Bulldogs have consistently showed improvement over the last three seasons. First, the goal was to reach the playoffs, then advance out of the first round. Having already accomplished these goals in recent years, New Albany won its first division title on the girls’ side after an impressive weekend, beginning with a 3-1 win over Corinth last Thursday night.
“We knew that Corinth would be the toughest test out of the three games, and they showed up and played very well,” New Albany coach Caryl Vogel said. “North Pontotoc and Tishomingo County were not as strong the following nights, but they were tough games. Our performance over those three nights gave me the opportunity to rest some of our starters and start getting ready for the playoffs, as well as give some playing time to the younger players, and they also did well.”
Lucy Martin put the Lady Bulldogs on the board first against the Lady Warriors. Corinth would later tie the game, preceding two goals from junior Katelyn Watson. The 3-1 halftime lead would eventually be the final.
Kristen Olson and Olivia Dunnam each scored three goals in a 12-1 Friday night win over the Lady Vikings, and New Albany closed out the regular season with an 8-0 win at Tishomingo County on Saturday, led by three goals from Hannah Anderson.
While Vogel is proud of the team for securing its first ever division title, his message to them going into the playoffs is to not stop there, as they have a chance to advance far in the 4A playoffs.
“I was very proud of them to win the division, and it makes us feel good about ourselves,” he said. “They’ve come a long way, even from June until now, and I’m proud of them for that. They’re learning to become soccer players and not just girls who play soccer. That’s been the key to our success, but we don’t want to get caught up in winning the division title. I feel this group is good enough to make it to north half and maybe even state, so I told them to be happy about it, but not become complacent.”
New Albany will host defending 4A state champion Florence in the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday. The Eagles are 12-6-3 on the season, finishing second to Germantown in division play.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Vogel said. “They have a lot of confidence, so it’s all about staying composed and in your element in the playoffs, because it’s that one game, and that’s it. It’s a game we can win, but we have to do the things we can do right, and we’ll have a chance to win.”
Bulldogs secure two seed for playoffs
On the boys’ side, after a tough 3-2 loss to Corinth on Thursday, the Bulldogs rebounded with wins over North Pontotoc and Tishomingo County, making the playoffs as the two seed from the division.
“The Corinth game was a heart breaker, and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t pull that one out, but they came out against North and a had a great game on Friday,” Vogel said. “They recovered very well, but against Tish. on Saturday, the first half was terrible. They were able to come out and play much better in the second half to make the playoffs, so I’m proud of them for that. It gives us a lot of momentum going into Germantown.”
Down 1-0 against the Warriors, Anthony Fernandez tied the game at the half, and later tied the game at two in the second half. After his second goal, Corinth quickly responded, resulting in a 3-2 loss for the Bulldogs.
On senior night last Friday, the Bulldogs picked up a 10-2 win over the Vikings, and followed that with a 4-0 win at Tishomingo County on Saturday. The game against the Braves remained scoreless until four minutes into the second half, when Anthony Fernandez had his first of three straight goals. Eduardo Fernandez rounded out the scoring with his goal later in the second.
The Bulldogs will take on Germantown in the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday. The Mavericks are 10-5-3 and division champs for Region 4-4A.
“They’re going to be a tough team, and they obviously won their division, and it’s one of the toughest in the state,” Vogel said. “We know it’s going to be a tough, but if we can play like we did in the second half against Tish., I think we can compete.”
The boys will play at Germantown at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, while the Lady Bulldogs will host Florence at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Kitchens’ Field.