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Local athletes to participate in soccer all-star game

Pearl River County’s soccer programs will be well represented at this year’s Mississippi Coast All-Star Game with three athletes making the roster.

The game will take place Feb. 8 at the Gulfport Sportsplex with the girls playing at 5:30 p.m. followed by the boys at 7:30 p.m.

Morgan Westling and Donovan Minor will be representing Poplarville High School while Joshua Thomas will represent Picayune Memorial High School.

Westling won’t be able to play in the game because of an injury she picked up late in the season, but the winger said she’ll still attend the match.

“It was a main goal for me this year to be on the roster, so it felt good to know I had accomplished my goal even though I’m not getting to play. I’m still going to go and be with the girls because that’s what it’s all about is to be a part of the team and to cheer them on,” Westling said.

Minor is a junior, so he will be returning for one final year with the Hornets after the all-star game.

The goalkeeper never played soccer until he joined the team in his eighth grade year, but Minor’s work ethic and ability in the net has earned him a spot at the all-star game.

“I had no sports background whatsoever. I never even thought I’d be playing soccer. I just worked at it, showed up to practice every day, worked hard and did what I had to do,” Minor said.

This will be Thomas’ third year taking part in the all-star match with the defender providing a source of stability and skill along Picayune’s back line the past several seasons.

While this may not be the first time Thomas takes the pitch as an all-star, that doesn’t make the designation any less meaningful to the senior.

“It means a lot to me. It just shows me how much I’ve been growing and improving in my game these few years I’ve been playing soccer. I didn’t ever think I would go to an all star game when I started playing, but I made it three times,” Thomas said.

Westling understands that she’ll be an ambassador for the Lady Hornets program while at the match.

She’s hoping to make it clear to the coaches and players that athletes coming out of Poplarville mean business on the pitch.

“I think it speaks to the program that we’re building at Poplarville. I think we’ve gotten better every year. I think Poplarville is really building an amazing program and hopefully next year we’ll have even more girls on the (all-star) roster,” Westling said.

Monday’s match will be Thomas’ last as a member of the Maroon Tide.

The weight of that isn’t lost on the senior, and he said he’ll miss the program that took him in his seventh grade year.

“We built it like a family for me. I’ve been hanging out with these guys since I was 13-years-old. Coach Britton (Fortenberry) has had a big impact on my life. I hope that since (the underclassmen) have seen these seniors that just played in their last game they recognize and understand that they can get it done, too,” Thomas said.