By LEE ADAMS
The Starkville Academy Lady Volunteers took one of the best soccer teams in the state down to the wire Tuesday afternoon and without one of their best players.
Even with junior Tiffany Huddleston getting hurt early in the first half, Starkville Academy stayed in the match and ended up dropping a heartbreaker 1-0 to Jackson Prep.
Scoring chances were few and far between for both teams, but Jackson Prep's Keavy Knoblin took advantage of her shot on goal by finding the back of the net around the 16-minute mark. Knoblin had the lone goal that gave Prep the win to remain undefeated in division play.
Prep improved to 9-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference, while the Lady Vols fell to 4-3 and 1-2.
Starkville Academy was unable to capitalize on its scoring opportunities but got outstanding play from defensive players despite the loss.
"The performance as a whole I was happy with," said SA head coach Robert Gardner. "We defended like heros today and the back on was fantastic."
Even though they allowed one goal, the Lady Vols back line played well. Anna McKell, Nora Kathryn Carroll, Tiffany Evans and Sydney Passons were handling the defensive duties and their coach was impressed by their play.
"Anna and Nora played their best game of the year next to each other today," said Gardner. "Tiffany Evans, who had played mid field all season, moved back there and did good, and Sydney Passons, who is a 7th grader played at right back for 80 minutes and she did a great job."
The play of the midfield wasn't as impressive as the back side, but Gardner was still happy with their effort.
"We lacked organization at times in the midfield, but overall I thought we were extremely good," said Gardner.
Another loss SA was hit with during the game was Huddleston, a Mississippi State commitment, going out with an ankle injury that happened near midfield early in the first half. The injury occurred when Huddleston and a Jackson Prep player were battling for the ball.
"It wasn't cheap or dirty, it was just a good challenge from the Jackson Prep player," said Gardner. "Fortunately, it was her left ankle and not her right, so it's not her dominate foot."
In hopes of getting her healthy for the rest of the season, Gardner plans to rest Huddleston the rest of the week so she can possibly heal and be ready to play sooner than later.
"We'll probably try to rest her through the weekend, even though we play East Rankin on Saturday," said Gardner. "Then we'll see if she's ready to play Monday."
With Huddleston going down early in the match, it would be easy for the Lady Vols to make excuses with one of their key players out. However, that's not the style of Gardner but he does hate that it happened.
"I hate excuses, but playing without a player like Tiffany for 65 minutes is always going to be difficult," said Gardner. "It's unfortunate to lose her."
Dropping the division game hurts but Gardner thinks the girls can learn from this loss to get better.
"This loss shows the girls that we have to play in high pressure," said Gardner. "When we play in high pressure, we are going to create chances and that's something we've struggled with in the past, but I was extremely proud of them today."