Gulf Coast soccer stars join forces in Nationals quest
Over the weekend, the South Mississippi Soccer Club hosted its annual club tournament at the Gulfport Sportsplex comprised of 182 teams from across the Southeast.
The ’03 Girls Elite Team victorious in its final three home games ever, winning the 19-U gold division, fresh off making Mississippi Select soccer history last month.
Center back Addie Eddins said, “Yeah, I feel like when you hear a Mississippi team, you’re like, Mississippi? Yeah. Like, those are a bunch of Coast people. Cornbread fed. Yeah, like a bunch of country people. But really when you go up and you see the different competition and we’re up there with them and playing, and there’s a pressure that comes along with it, but I feel like it really made us like, we have to do this now. This is our time.”
Whatever Mississippi’s reputation is on the pitch, 03G Elite is changing that in a hurry. In March, they put the U.S. Youth Soccer National League Pro on notice with a record of 4-1-2 during their time in Phoenix, Arizona, good enough to be one of 24 to qualify for the USYS National Championships this summer in Orlando, Florida. Head Coach Chris Handy said, “Yeah, I mean me and the girls had a conversation in May of last year, actually, so it’s been about a year, and we kind of set the goals once we found out we qualified for this league. We knew it was going to be challenging with their high school schedules and all the other things that they do, so that kind of set the standard from there.”
Also, the head men’s soccer coach at MGCCC, Chris Handy just took the Bulldogs to the NJCAA Division II tournament this season for the first time in program history.
He’s now doing the same thing with the Quickshots, the first Select team from the Magnolia State to punch its ticket to nationals in more than 30 years and the first girls team to ever do it. Striker Abby Badurak said, “That’s definitely been the goal since the beginning of this season and even for a couple of years now, so it’s really nice to finally be doing it.”
Defender Mackenzie Winters said, “We definitely feel accomplished. People are like, you’re the first Mississippi team. But it’s an amazing feeling, to be honest. But we know we have to work. We know it’s not going to be easy.”
“It makes people really proud that we came together and we did this. Like no one else did this for us. We put in the work. We put in the hours, so it’s really showing how much through the years we’ve worked to finally get to where we want it again, and just go for the win.”
A lot of these players are used to winning, with 11 out of the 18 hailing from either Gulfport or Ocean Springs High School, who have a combined record of 146-16-14 over the last four years with three combined 6A state championships. “Well, Gulfport and Ocean Springs, known rivalry. Always been a rivalry. He loves to bring up that one.”
“Our coach likes to bring them up for sure.”
“I mean I bring it up all the time, because I like to poke fun and challenge them, make sure practice is competitive.”
“Like, we hate each other during high school season.” “High school season, we hate each other. But once it’s here, it’s like we’re the closest we could ever be.”
That chemistry never fails to show up on game day with some players having been on the roster since they were seven or eight years old. Overall, six from Gulfport, five from OS, two from Pass Christian, one from Pascagoula, three from Louisiana, and one from Alabama. “For people to come from Louisiana and Alabama to just come practice with a Mississippi team, I mean we have to be kind of stacked for that. But really, they’ve actually come in and helped us grow more.”
“I’m just ready to go play. Just like the level of soccer up there is going to be really different, and just being able to be with them up there in Orlando, and just a lot of girls are going to college and stuff and just being able to bond with each other is going to be really fun.”
One last ride for 03G Elite with 11 out of the 18 already to committed to play at the college level and others on academic scholarship with a team GPA of 3.9.
But before these juniors and seniors all go their separate ways, they have a legacy to leave behind as the first, but hopefully not the last. “We definitely want to make a statement. Not just to everybody in the state, but the little girls who want to grow up and play soccer and go to nationals, we’re just trying to make a statement.”
“I think just setting an example for the younger people under us, so that they can know that there’s something higher and better for them in soccer.”
“For me, I think the big thing is to kind of show the rest of the Coast that there is a level out there that we can get to when the groups are committed to trying to complete something. So, that’s what I’m most proud about because I think there’s been a lot of attention on this team for the things, they’ve been able to accomplish throughout the years. But the main thing is that we have talent down here, and if they’re willing to stay committed and continue to push, they can accomplish a lot of things.”
USYS Nationals start July 18th in Orlando, Florida at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Next up for the 03G Elite state title game on May 12th in Hattiesburg against Mississippi Rush 03 out of Jackson.
Here’s a look at the local players:
- Abby Badurak
- Lauren Carothers
- Addie Eddins
- Allie Gant
- Laylah Johnson
- Mary Frances Symmes
- Malloy Bellon
- A’Leigh Coleman
- Sydney Johnson
- Vienna Ritchie
- Mackenzie Winters
- Kealy Skinner
- Gabrielle Venable
- Isabella Reynolds