By Drew Kerekes \ email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Two local youth soccer teams brought home statewide recognition in late May as they captured the Mississippi Soccer Association’s President’s Cup state title.
The Meridian FC 02 girls’ squad, comprised of girls turning 12 this year, and the Meridian FC 04 boys team, comprised of boys turning 10 this year, both brought home the championship trophy after competing for it May 24-25.
FC 02 girls
Head coach Bob Dalton recalls first forming his girls’ squad last year, when several members of the team were completely new to the game.
“No way were these girls at the level we were competing at and working toward (when we began),” Dalton recalled. “We had a lot of work to do.”
First on Dalton’s list was to instill the most part of being a soccer player: love of the game. Along with that, Dalton said he wanted his players to work together and work hard.
“I told the parents we’d be competing against high-level teams,” he said. “I promised them I would develop them as a team and as individuals. I said if they didn’t worry about wins, I promised them the kids would develop.”
And develop they did — at a rate Dalton said he wasn’t expecting. The girls went on to win the Division 1 league last year, beating a team in a shootout they lost to 9-0 in the first tournament of the season. They also defeated that same team earlier in the finals, 2-0.
“They had a title, so they were on top (heading into this year),” Dalton said. “You can’t tell a kid like that to have no expectations. They had that hunger.”
And though they would eventually secure a President’s Cup last month, Dalton said there were some bumps along the way. Complacency propped up at times, and Dalton said one time in particular taught his team an important lesson.
“We were up on a team 9-0 in a tournament, and all we had to do was not let them score and we were in the finals,” he said. “There was one kid who didn’t want to play their position, on kid who made a bad decision and one who wasn’t in position, and they scored, so we had to go home. That was the turning point.”
Dalton also coaches a boys’ youth team, and he even offered to let his boys go against his girls.
“One of them said, ‘Are you kidding? That’s like playing against (grown) men,’” Dalton said. “That’s respect. My son even asked if we could use a few of them on his team.”
FC 04 boys
Matthew Castleberry, who coaches the FC 04 boys, said his team has medaled in five of the seven tournaments they’ve played, with two first-place finishes, including the President’s Cup. So far, coaching them has been a pleasure.
“They’re really a great group,” Castleberry said. “They listen pretty well. They like to cut up and have fun like any 10-year-old would, but they move the ball well and are very disciplined as far as their positions go.”
Its their second year of competitive soccer, and Castleberry said his players are still fairly new to playing competitively. In developing his young soccer team, Castleberry said wins and losses aren’t the most important thing.
“I want them to play the right way — I want them to focus on individual skills, passing, positioning and the basic concepts of moving the ball,” he said.
His players have been quick to catch on, Castleberry said.
“They’ve been moving the ball well for about a year,” he said. “They’ve always kind of gotten the concepts, but they’ve really honed in on it the last year as far as the precision of their play goes.”
The FC 04 boys have been playing for approximately 11 months straight, and Castleberry said his team’s enjoyment of the game is what keeps them coming back for more.
“At this age, you have to have fun,” he said. “If they aren’t having fun, you can’t get them to come out. We try to keep them interested and hope they continue to enjoy it, and they actually have kept coming. it’s been a good year for them.”