By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
The Meridian High School girls soccer team talks often about learning from its mistakes.
The Wildcats have a golden opportunity this week to show they have done just that. Entering the final week of the regular season, MHS needs to sweep Division 5-6A rivals Petal and Oak Grove to force a three-way tie for the division title and keep its playoff hopes alive.
Heading to Petal today for a 5:30 p.m. start and Oak Grove on Friday, the Wildcats lost earlier games 3-2 to the Panthers and 2-1 in double overtime to the Warriors.
“We constantly talk about those that don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” MHS coach Mike Smith said. “So we try to learn something from every game.”
What the Wildcats, who are 12-4-2 overall and 2-2 in the division, could learn from those earlier setbacks is to capitalize on their opportunities.
In the loss to Petal, Meridian led 2-1 at the half and missed a chance early in the second half to push its lead to 3-1. The Panthers rallied to control play the final 30 minutes and grab the win. Against Oak Grove, the Wildcats had a shot late in regulation for the win but couldn’t convert and then missed a game-tying shot late in the second overtime.
Those setbacks — and learning opportunities — have put Meridian in a must-win situation this week. However, they also have provided the Wildcats with confidence.
“When we played both teams earlier, they were very, very equally-played games,” Smith said. “It’s going to be tough to go on the road and win both, but can we do it? Without a doubt we can.
“And really, we are playing with nothing to lose. Oak Grove is supposed to beat us. Petal was a much better team than us last year and we still won down there last year, and this is pretty much the same team. So they know it can be done.”
Leading that ability for Meridian is senior captain Meme Huff. One of just two seniors on the team — and Kelly Offenberger tore her ACL and MCL and was lost for the season just 11 games into the year — Huff has provided key leadership in addition to being the Wildcats’ top threat.
Huff has netted 25 goals and has added 11 assists to pace Meridian, which also has received 16 goals and 13 assists from freshman Kaylee Zettler.
“When Kelly went down, that day we talked about how someone needed to step up because we couldn’t just sit around and wait for Kelly to come back,” Smith said. “And they’ve done that. We’ve had so many players step up, and we have such a young group.
“I probably shouldn’t say it, but in two years, we should be competing for a state championship.”
Still that young team that includes four eighth-graders, including keeper Kelly Bator, and a seventh-grader, has proven it is ready to compete already.
Following a pair of losses in classic games, Meridian lost its regular season opener and tied its second game. Since then, the Wildcats have won 12 of 16, dropping a game to Gulfport and knotting West Lauderdale in addition to the two division losses.
“They’ve grown up in front of my eyes,” Smith said. “They’ve become mentally tough. They are very coachable and I’m going to hate it when the season ends, if we can’t win both games this week.
“This has been one of the better teams I can remember from Meridian. And if we can beat Petal, we’re going to be very fired up going to Oak Grove.”