RIDGELAND – The Starkville Lady Yellowjackets entered unchartered territory Tuesday night, while competing in their first North State soccer match of the season.
Even though the soccer season ended for the Lady Jackets with a 2-0 loss to Ridgeland, an emotional SHS coach Anna Albritton spoke on how proud she was of the fight in her team and their effort all season long.
"We're pleased," Albritton said. "Like I said, no other girls' teams made it this far and we are proud to be the first team to do it. It's a very talented team and getting this far is going to prepare us for 6A. Watching them play (Tuesday night) with the way they fought and knowing how these teams here in this Jackson area play physical, we learned to bump back and fight back more than we've ever done before."
Tracie Hobbs hit the goal from the top of the box and was assisted by Mary Ashton Lembo at the 21-minute mark for the first score for the Lady Titans.
First-year Ridgeland coach Jonathan Branch was relieved to get that first score as he knew how tough the Lady Jackets team was.
“We were so fortunate to have that goal early and it allowed us to relax and control the tempo for the rest of the match," Branch said. "(Lembo) is one of the best players in the state and of course, I'm biased, but I say that because I don't know what I would do if I had to coach against her.
“We knew they had a lot of team speed in the back forward positions so our focus was not trying to get caught out of position and get beat for a cheap goal. Our defense did a really good job of not getting frustrated with this wind and keeping focus on their jobs in front of them.”
The Lady Jackets had opportunities to score at the 30-minute mark as a shot hit off the crossbar to just miss tying the game.
The Lady Titans went into halftime with a 1-0 lead.
Lembo was not finished helping Ridgeland as she sent the ball hurdling towards an SHS defender. The ball then deflected off the Lady Jacket player, bounced off the turf and soared over the goalie's head at the 54-minute mark to give the Lady Titans a 2-0 lead.
That goal proved to be the last of the game as it was a defensive match the rest of the second half with both teams remaining scoreless and Ridgeland claiming victory on its home field.
The loss to the Lady Titans brought the SHS soccer season to an end with a 8-6-3 record and one game shy of competing for a State championship.
Looking forward, Albritton knows her team can learn from this season and will only grow as it prepares for next season.
"You just go forward," Albritton said. "Like I said, this is a great team, they fought hard and they're coming around. It doesn't happen overnight. This has been in the making for a couple of years here and we are going to lose some pieces to the puzzle next year, but we've got some pieces to put back in there."