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Page 6B 2o18 st, sxr a SPORTS February 21, 2018 .r Dawson Daniel moves upfield during the Bulldogs'8-0 win over Warner Robins on Feb. 9. Daniel had four goals in the game. (Photo/ rdl Davis) By Will Davis publisher@mymcr.net Despite losing 10 seniors from last year's region cham- pionship team, the Mary Persons boys soccer team is off to an unbeaten start, and hop- ing to make a run at the pro- gram's first-ever back-to-back region titles. But coach Allen Luton says it won't be easy. %Ve're just finding out what kind of team we are," said Luton. '%Ve'll see what hap- pens. It's definitely going to be a challenge." While conceding he may not have as many skill players as last year, Luton said he has been pleased with his team's work ethic in the pre-season. ' We're not as talented as last year, but the attitude is great. I like working with guys who do what I ask them do," said Luton, who almost left MP two years ago after he quit teach- ing to coach soccer at Middle Georgia State University. ' hat's why I keep coming back (to MP)." While the Bulldogs have won three region titles in the past five years, they have yet to win region in consecutive years. Gone from last year's team are four-year starters James Davis and Shane King, who led MP to two of those three titles. But this year's senior captains Dawson Daniel and Alex Rivera bring the same longevity and talent to their jobs. 'This year we need their leadership," said Luton. Perhaps best-known as MP's most successful placekicker ever, Rivera will again anchor the center mid-field position as the team's playmaker and distributor. The quick Daniel will play up top with senior Jacob Anthony and sophomore Julian Rivera as a potent three-headed monster offense for opposing defenses. These points of the spear in tl e MP attack are already giving defenses fits with their speed and skill. Junior Braydon Martin will play right behind them when he returns from an injury suf- fered in the win over Warner Robins, when he collided with a future Auburn football player on the Demon soccer team. Luton notes that Martin, like Julian Rivera and several oth- ers on the team, is the brother of another player in the pro- gram, the recently graduated Hunter Martin. Anthony got lots of playing time last yea after transfer- ring from Covenant Academy, and has already been match- ing Daniel and the Rivera brothers in terms of goal scor- ing. He is also faster after los- ing 15 pounds for wrestling. Freshman Garrison Walker has travel ball experience and will likely get immediate play- ing time at midfield, especially with Martin hurt. Perhaps the Bulldogs' tall- est player, sophomore William Atkins will also join Alex Rivera at the midfield. Like many starters, Atkins brings travel ball experience to the pitch. Atkins' brother Trae also played for Luton at MP. Senior Beau Watson has paid his dues with the program and will likely get a lot more play- ing time this year in the mid- field area. Senior Matt Miller will lead the defense after having a very strong junior season. Miller didn't even start at the begin- ning of the 2017 campaign but worked himself onto the field with his tenacity. "He's real coachable and has gotten better and better," said Luten, noting that Miller's brother Kenny also played for MP. The Culloden Canon, speedy senior Jakob Cox, who lost his familiar long mane before the season, will hold down Miller's left side. "I hope he doesn't lose his Mojo with his haircut," joked Luton. Another travel ball player with skills, sophomore Mason Baker, will man the defense. His brother Dawson also played soccer for the Bulldogs. In the goal the Bulldogs return senior and third-year starter Brock Hulsey. Luton said Hulsey keeps getting better and said he also Wants Hulsey to step up in the lead- ership department to boost the defense. He'll be backed up by freshman Aubrey Peterman, who also has significant travel ball experience and is the keeper of the future for the MP program. While it21 be hard to improve on last year's 14-3-2 record, the Bulldogs will be hungry to avenge last year's Round 1 state playoff loss, a big upset . in penalty kicks to Eastside 'i High from Covington. '"]'he playoff loss was tough," said Luton. ' /ou never know : when you get to penalty kicks." : Looking at the region, Luton : said he thinks Upson-Lee, which returns the Region Player of the Year and was MP's only region loss last year, will be the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs. Perry and Spalding will also be tough again, said Luton. He Said it was tough last year because every one was gunning for the loaded Bulldogs, who had a deep bench. This year, MP is the complete opposite, with very little bench. But Luton said he kind of likes being an underdog for a change. The boys have a new coach with a familiar name this season. Seventh grade math teacher Andrew Stevick, who played soccer for MP, is help- ing Luton this year. By Richard Dumas played almost every min- forsyth@mymcr.net ute last year for me. So I'm expecting her to have a big The Mary Persons girls year, probably a breakout soccer team brings back year. Maybe score a bit a strong nucleus of talent more than she did last in 2018 as it seeks to win year." the program's first region Hall also anticipates championship in seven increased offensive output years, from Finch, who primarily With 10 returners from led the defense a year ago. last yea s 10-8-1 squad, Finch already scored an second-year head coach early-season goal off of a Dallas Hall said he has corner kick and will be one higher expectations for the . of the offensive leaders on 2018 Lady Dogs. most set pieces. Finch will "I don't really like the also continue to be the cor- losses that we had last nerstone of MFs defense, year," Hall said. "Eight bringing physicality to losses, rm not a big fan of the back line. that. I'd like to at least cut Joining Finch in the rear that in half losses-wise. If of MFs formation will be we cut that in half, then a pair of junior returners, that's very good region- marking backs Sidney wise. Of come, the goal is Briner and Rachel Adams always to win region, to be and senior returner Naomi closer to (defending chan - Sanders: While Adams has pion) Spalding than we missed time in the early were last year. But thafs season due to a knee inju- always the goal. That's ry, Hall has experimented the gir s' goal, and that's with having three backs what they want to achieve instead of four. He said he as well. But if it doesn't wants MP to be flexible happen, then the goal is to enough in 2018 to adjust get as far in the playoffs as its formations on the fly possible." according to the skill set of Among MP's top return- its opponents. ers are four standouts who Joining Giles and received all-region honors Buffington in the midfield in 2017 including:, sopho- will be junior Morgan more striker Abbie Davis, Lawson, who will be sophomore midfielder count ed on to fill the big Taylor B n, and the shoes of the graduated two 2018 captains, junior Emily Barnes. Hall said midfielder Annie Giles Lawson has flashed in the and senior center back pre-season many of the Kennedy Finch. same skills Barnes pos- Starting as freshmen, sessed. the speedy duo of Davis "She's improved a and Buffington were MP's whole bunch from last leading scorers in 2017 year, really, really great and will be looked upon improvement," Hall said for even more quality ' of Lawson. "She's starting play in 2018. Buffington, to learn the position, and who missed most of the I think by the time region pre-sehson while playing comes around shell be on MFs basketball team, pretty comfortable in that scored four goals in her role. Her work rate is so first game back earher high all the time. I never this month. Giles will be have to tell her to pick it counted on to dictate the up or it's not good enough tempo of the game from or anything. I know her the midfield, work rate is going to be Hall said of Giles: "She there all the time every Strong-legged midfielder Taylor Buffington is expected to again be one of MP's top goal scorers. (Photo/Will Davis) single game." Up front, along with Davis, MP will feature a pair of versatile freshmen, Mara Emami and Lauren Hamm, who each have extensive club experience. Varsity reserves will include: Lauren Hamm's older sister, Meredith Hamm, a junior who will see action all over the field, Spalding transfer Hope Brooks, a junior who will play midfield and forward, sophomore Alexis Havens, who was promoted from JV, and senior Anmol Patel, a for- ward who has been a stalwart on JV for several seasons. Hall said of Patel: "All the girls like her, and she just provides a good personality for the team. Will she be a huge impact player? Maybe not on the field, but off the field, absolutely." MFs starting goalkeeper will be returning senior Lori Smith, who has improved greatly from last year, according to her coach. ' She's a lot more confi- dent this year," Hall said of Smith. '%ast year, I wanted her to be more confident playing with her feet, and I think she is more confident in that role so far this year, which I'm happy about. The first two games she's been doing what I wanted her to do." Hall said he has shaken up the team's schedule in 2018 in order to better prepare the Lady Dogs for tough playoff competi- tion like St. Pius X, which ousted MP in the second round of last yea s state playoffs. Most of MFs non- region games will be either against AAAA teams the Henry County area or against state powers like AAAAAA Houston County or AAAAA Warner Robins. 'Tin excited to play different teams, out-of- conference teams that we've never seen before, the girls have never seen," Hall said. 'You kind of get tired of playing the same programs, so I tried to venture out into Henry County and teams that we might run into their region in the playoffs. Within Region 2-AAAA, Hall said the other five teams, including MP, are still chasing Spalding, which went undefeated 2018 MP Varsity DATE OPPONENT LOCATION Feb. 23 West Laurens* Away. Feb. 27 Upson-Lee* Away Mar. 2 Perry* Away Mar. 6 Howard* Home Mar. 9 Tattnall Square Away Mar. 13 West Laurens* Home Mar. 16 Spalding* Away Mar. 22 Howard* Away Mar. 27 Upson-Lee* Home Apr. 13 Spalding* Home Apr. 17 Perry* Home Apr. 20 Dutchtown Home Apr. 26 Girls (1st Round State)TBD Apr. 27 Boys (1st Round State)TBD within the region a year ago. He said Howard is also expected to be solid, and Upsen-Lee and Perry have had up-and-down cycles over the last several years. '2VIy hope is that we've closed the gap a little bit," Hall said of MFs chances to catch Spalding. Hall said it will help that he knows his players much better than in year one while his players also know what he wants out of them. m expecting more i from the girls I had last year just because they've been in my system for a year, Hall said: So now everything should click, , and they know my expec- : J # tations. And the way I want to play and'the way : I'm expecting everybody to play. And the work rate , that I expect from every- body. They should be more :i comfortable with that. I think most of them are, and I'm seeing it m the first two games. They're J a bit more together as a group than they ,vere last : year. And that's always a i plus, especially with girls." , Schedule TIME ': G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5:30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5"30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. G-5-30 p.m B-7:30 p.m. TBD TBD