Starkville Academy soccer coach Robert Gardner believes he has a team that's battled-tested enough to charge into the Class AAA playoffs.
The Lady Volunteers have taken on some pretty tough opponents during the course of the season and have shown signs of being on the same level with them.
For example, it was one week ago that Starkville Academy forced a 2-2 draw with Jackson Academy in 80 minutes of action.
Sophomore Tiffany Huddleston scored both goals in that match and really wanted the chance to see what the Lady Vols could do in extra time.
"We were down and I felt we deserved to win," Huddleston said last week. "Even though we tied, I'll take a tie. I just wanted to try and get the game back even."
There won't be a tie when the playoffs begin at the Starkville Sportsplex Soccer Complex today. Starkville Academy takes on Presbyterian Christian at 4 p.m.
The Lady Vols enter the playoffs with a 9-6-1 overall record, which was a little bit better than Gardner thought it would be in his first year.
With a young team that has only one senior, Gardner had a mark of around .500 in his mind.
"What we've gotten out of the season has been fantastic," Gardner said. "I'm sure not sure what I thought as far as looking at the schedule before the season even started. I would have expected about .500 and I wasn't sure how we'd do against the bigger teams, but we've stood up to the bigger teams and we've been in all of the big matches that we've played."
Gardner said Starkville Academy is excited about the opportunity in the postseason and "it's a big deal for us."
He said the squad spent some time Monday going over the game plan and expects a tough challenge from Presbyterian Christian.
"I do expect a very competitive match and what you would expect from any matchup in the playoffs," Gardner said. "We talked about a number of things we have to make sure we put it all on the field and get ourselves ready."
If there's one concern Gardner has, it's team defense.
"I thought we got away from that a little bit in the second half against JA, but we were able to bail ourselves out of it," Gardner said. "We need to make sure we are working as a group. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance."
Having players like Huddleston and Sallie Kate Richardson available also improves the Lady Vols' chances of winning.
Huddleston and Richardson have been two instrumental players for SA and have missed some time recently due to various injuries.
Gardner said both should be ready to provide any help needed.
"Physically, they'll be ready to go," Gardner said. "I expect them to play 80 minutes, 110 or however many we need to finish off this game. They know how important they are to the team and understand their roles."