Men’s Soccer wants to repeat, head to Tucson
Published 11:31 am Monday, August 22, 2022
PERKINSTON — Sixteen sophomores returning from the defending Gulf South District/MACCC men’s soccer champions seems like a recipe for a repeat.
Mississippi Gulf Coast coach Chris Handy knows that it’s not as easy as that. It may be a double-edged sword.
“The fact they’ve been through it before is kind of a blessing and a curse,” he said. “The blessing is they know what to expect, and they know what it takes. The curse would be a letdown if they understand it’s not that hard to drop off from game to game and still make the playoffs. Hopefully, we can keep their goals high and keep them engaged.”
Gulf Coast hits the road to open the season Tuesday, heading to Raymond to play Hinds. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Bulldogs open the home schedule Sept. 4 when Patrick & Henry visits Perkinston. Home games will be streamed at https://mgcccbulldogs.com/watch.
Gulf Coast wrapped up its undefeated preseason schedule Friday by beating Itawamba 2-1. The Bulldogs beat East Central 4-2 earlier in the week.
Handy starts ticking off his attacking players, and it quickly sounds like an embarrassment of riches.
“The strength of this team is in the front six or seven,” he said. “We have Ivan who can score goals, we have Joon who led us in scoring last year. We have Alwayne, who is always dangerous. We have Klaidas, who is healthy and will show his worth. Sonny scored in the first scrimmage.”
The details: Ivan Gonzalez (So., Olive Branch/Olive Branch) had two goals and four assists last year, All-American Hyungjoon Lee (So., Suwon, South Korea/Dongbuk) had 11 goals and five assists, Alwayne Whittaker (So., Biloxi/Biloxi) had a goal and two assists while playing defender, Klaidas Pudlauskas (So., London, England/Gaynes School) had two goals and five assists fighting through injuries, and Seongbin Son (So., Seoul, South Korea/Guhyun) had four assists.
Ashton Taylor (So., Olive Branch/Center Hill) was a late addition to the squad when he decided to use his extra year of eligibility. He has eight career goals and five assists.
“The player he is, the winner he is, the fighter he is, is exciting for us,” Handy said. “We expect him to score goals.”
Michael Bell (So., Jackson/Murrah) scored four goals last year, too, and the Bulldogs are waiting on Abdul Omar (So., Madison/Germantown) to return to full strength. Gulf Coast also added UAB transfer Miller Hayden (So., Hattiesburg/Oak Grove)
Lee, Bell, Gonzalez and Kevin Treminio (So., Long Beach/Long Beach) will carry most of the midfield burden. Lee might even be called to play defender depending on the opponent and the shape the Bulldogs choose to play.
Handy likes to find two center backs and play them 90 minutes, the only field players who get called on to do so. Right now, that’s looking like Marcus Gaymes (Fr., Brampton Ontario/St. Edmund) and Zach McWillie (Fr., Jackson/Murrah).
“It’s Zach and Marcus’ job to lose,” Handy said. “They are an interesting tandem. Zach is a strong, physical player; Marcus is more of a surgeon the way he plays. Zach is more of a hammer. We hope those two can continue to grow and become a strength of ours. I’ve already told them they may be up against it because of the number of attacking players we have who will be going forward, we’re leaving them on an island. It’s a little unfair to them.”
Parker Stephens (So., Hattiesburg/Oak Grove) can also be called on in the center, as can Nathaniel Mink (So., Long Beach/Long Beach) and Shamar Hopkins (So., Jackson/Jim Hill).
Declan Dillistone (So., Laurel/West Jones) and Grayson Nester (Fr., Flowood/Hartfield Academy) are going to keep the keeper battle going into the season. They’ll get chances during the non-conference portion of the schedule to earn the nod once MACCC play starts. Dillistone needs to take his practice play into game, while Nester, who is taller, has shown good ability to play the ball out of the back with his feet.
The team is taking advantage of the new artificial turf at Bary Thrash Field, which has allowed them to practice consistently despite all the rain in the preseason.
The conference has eliminated divisions in soccer this year, so the schedule is a straight single round-robin with the other 10 teams.
The top seven teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the regular-season champ earning the MACCC crown and a bye into the semifinal. The other six teams will match up in the quarterfinals, with the Gulf South District Tournament being hosted by the men’s regular-season champ.
Pearl River, who the Bulldogs beat in the district championship game last year, Jones and Itawamba figure to be among the top teams. Ethan Pascal, who was on Handy’s staff the past few years, has taken over at East Central, which may jump into that fight.
The Bulldogs would love to host the tournament and have a chance to earn a second consecutive trip to the NJCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championships. This year, it’s in Tucson.
“We always try to move one step further from season to season,” Handy said. “We can see ourselves trying to get to Arizona, but we don’t just want to get there. We want to get to the weekend, get to the final four and see what happens. We feel like we have a better chance than we did last year. We’re a little bit deeper and a little bit more versatile. We want to be one of the last teams standing.”
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