By DANNY P. SMITH
The goal for Starkville Academy soccer coach Robert Gardner is for his teams to always finish undefeated in the conference.
Those hopes were dashed for the Volunteers Wednesday afternoon when they lost a 1-0 decision to Pillow Academy in their season, home and Class 3A North Division II opener.
Gardner understands it was tough to start the season with a conference match, but said SA still had to step up to the challenge.
"Truth be told, I want to finish 10-0 in the conference and now it's going to have to be 9-1," Gardner said. "For any team that I coach, I'm going to set high standards. When you play a team that's going to be at the top of your conference in the first game of the season, you can't come out flat and we certainly did."
The Vols spent several minutes with their coach following the match trying to make sense out of how they came up short in the first match of the season.
Gardner saw the hurt in the faces of the players and believed the effort was there.
"I have to take heart in the fact we didn't quit," Gardner said. "It wasn't like everyone was having a laugh and were joking after the match. It's a pretty somber set of guys.
"Obviously, this game means something to them and they don't want to lose, but a little bit of inexperience today cost us."
The two teams battled through a scoreless first half, then Pillow's Thomas Toole scored in the 60th minute of the match which turned out to be the deciding tally.
Gardner said being even at the half was "probably a fair result," but couldn't help thinking what might have been if SA had taken advantage of missed opportunities.
"I felt we had seven or eight good possessions that could have finished with chances, but before even getting those chances, we gave it away by just too many touches, making a poor decision, or playing under pressure," Gardner said. "When you make those poor decisions, you waist those opportunities. You don't get them back and we left results on the field."
Gardner pointed to a lack of communication and poor possession in the first 20 minutes as reasons why his squad struggled.
The Vols plan to practice today, Friday, Monday and Tuesday, then return the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They travel to Pillow on Nov. 29.
"Obviously, we're going to need to practice and get ready for this next game with them," SA goal keeper Davis Pigg said.