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By JOEL COLEMAN
If Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is a soccer fan, the former New York Yankee probably would have a great deal of respect for the D2 United U-16 boys soccer team from the Starkville Soccer Association.
Much like Berra's well-known quote, 'It ain't over 'til it's over', the 12 individuals of the SSA's D2 United squad were a walking example of sticking things out through the end, battling on despite the adversity that came when the team's roster shrunk from 18 to just one dozen over the course of the season.
"Commitment from that final group is absolutely how I would describe this team," said coach Robert Gardner. "The effort that the players put in was great and we had a really good, competitive year."
Gardner's unit put together a final overall record of 8-4-1 in a campaign that lasted from March until June.
The group capped the summer off with a third-place finish in the State Games at Meridian, an event made up of teams from all over the state of Mississippi.
All this came just one year after the plans to put this team together fell apart.
"The fact that this team tried to form last year and didn't even make it through one game with 11 players, and (this summer) we were able to play in four different competitions and compete at a high level in every tournament that we did says a lot about the team," said Gardner.
Yet Gardner admits things weren't always easy with just a 12-member team.
The United's lack of bodies proved to be especially tough when dealing with the caliber of competition that was in Meridian, yet the team still found a way to finish strong.
"They all play at a good level and their fitness levels are really high," said Gardner. "That last weekend, it was difficult, but we train and practice at a pretty high level and so it was something I was pleased with, to see them have success."
Of the 12 guys who made up Gardner's team, seven were from Starkville High while the remaining five were from Starkville Academy where Gardner serves as head soccer coach.
In the grand scheme of things, Gardner says it is both the SHS and SA soccer programs that will each reap the rewards of the unrelenting efforts of the United.
"The main thing was to give the guys the opportunity to continue to play soccer," said Gardner. "It gives them the opportunity to be active in soccer before they go and compete with their high school teams in the fall and winter. I think those high school teams that each player plays on will surely benefit."