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By JOEL COLEMAN
The Starkville High boys and girls soccer teams have both made winning a habit this season.
Now, it's win-or-go-home time as both the Yellowjackets and Lady Jackets begin the Class 6A playoffs today.
The SHS boys (15-1-1) begin their postseason run at 5:30 p.m. at Horn Lake.
The Lady Jackets (13-4) travel to DeSoto Central for a 5 p.m. match.
"We've got a new season starting and we've got business to take care of," said boys coach Brian Bennett.
Bennett's Jackets were in position to host today's first-round matchup, but fell 3-0 to Tupelo on Saturday in a contest that cost Starkville the Division 2 championship.
While the defeat was disappointing, Bennett says he was still pleased with his team's performance on the Golden Wave's home turf and doesn't believe the Jackets' first loss of the season will have any lingering effects today.
"We played pretty well (Saturday) and had several good chances to score but just couldn't put it away," said Bennett. "When you go to Tupelo, you better be playing at a very high level to beat them up there. We may not have reached that level, but we still played well.
"Of course we were disappointed, but I'm pretty excited about our draw for the playoffs."
While admittedly Bennett would have liked to host today's contest, his enthusiasm is due, in part, to his team's prospects going forward should they get past the 15-2, Division 1 champion Eagles today.
If Starkville wins and Division 3 winner Madison Central earns a home victory against Vicksburg, the Jackets would host Madison Central on Saturday with a trip to the Feb. 1 North State title game on the line.
It's a scenario that is very feasible considering the talent level of the Jackets.
"With the quality of players we have, it's going to be fun to watch how they play in the playoffs against these stronger teams that are left," said Bennett.
As for the Lady Jackets, head coach Anna Albritton knows her young squad will have their hands full against DeSoto Central today, but she's optimistic her girls will be up to the challenge.
"I think we have a good chance," said Albritton. "When I look at ...who they've played, it's some of the same teams we've played. They have beaten some of the teams we've beaten. We've actually beaten some of the teams they've beaten."
The fact that the Lady Jackets are playing a team not named Madison Central gives Albritton even more reason to believe.
The last two seasons, Starkville has matched up against Madison Central in the first round.
Each time, Madison Central advanced and went on to become state champions.
"(DeSoto Central) may beat us, but it's not going to be an overwhelming situation like it is with Clinton or Madison Central. We're going to drive to the football field that is not turf and they don't have banners hanging outside their stadium. It's a good thing mentally for the girls to experience."
Still the Lady Jackets may have to deal with Madison Central.
If Starkville earns the victory today and Madison Central beats Warren Central, Albritton and the Lady Jackets would host their nemesis on Saturday.
To even get to that point, SHS goalkeeper and Itawamba Community College signee Raevonne Shoemaker says the Lady Jackets must simply keep playing the same game they've played all year long.
"Our defense is extremely strong," said Shoemaker. "I think this has been the best year for defense, and we have speed at the top with strikers and foot skills up there."
If the Jackets and Lady Jackets can keep up their winning ways through the next two weeks to get there, the Class 6A state championship games will be played on Feb. 5 at Clinton High School with the girls match at 5:30 p.m. and the boys match at 7:30 p.m.