After going undefeated in the regular season, the No. 10 ranked Holmes Community College Lady Bulldogs are the North Division champion and North No. 1 seed heading into this weekend's MACJC Soccer Tournament at Jones College in Ellisville. The North Division title was the third straight for the Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Bulldogs, who finished the regular season at 15-0, dedicated the season to their teammate, Taylor Gagneaux, who died in May in an auto accident. The players have been wearing arm bands with "Gags 21" in her memory all season.
"I can't wait to watch the girls play this weekend," Associate Head Coach Wesley Noble said. "They are an extremely motivated team that is playing for a lot more than just a state championship. The girls dedicated their season to their late teammate Taylor Gagneaux at the beginning of the year. When you have a "why" such as that, you always have a little bit extra left in the tank when you need it."
Holmes will face the winner of the Hinds-Gulf Coast game at noon on Saturday in the semifinals. Hinds and Gulf Coast are playing tomorrow night to decide who will face the Lady Bulldogs. Holmes finished the season with 10 shutouts with 64 goals scored and 4.27 goals per game.
Noble said he's definitely pleased with the results this season.
"Winning the division isn't an easy task, and they have accepted each challenge they have faced and found a way to overcome every single one," Noble said. "Leadership and mindset are two of the major components to our success this year. Our sophomores, led by captain Sarah Chastain, have done a fantastic job of showing the freshmen the way we do things. We set higher standards this year than we ever have before and the girls have really bought into these. The mindset each one has had from the very first day of training has been a team-first attitude in every standpoint. We have a very talented group of players and each one of these have put their own agendas to the side for the betterment of the team."
Freshman forward Zoe Ellis from Brandon is tied for eighth (others all in numeral form) in goals scored this season in the NJCAA with 24. She's 15th in points, fifth in shots and sixth in shots on goal. Goalkeepers Bailey O'Connor and Morgan McKinion have had a great season as well. O'Connor is tied for 6th in goals against with three in the NJCAA while McKinion is tied for 13th in goals against with four in the NJCAA.
Head Coach Matt Convertino said the team would've been disappointed had they had not success this season.
"There is a tremendous amount of talent within the squad so I believe they would have been very disappointed had they missed the playoffs," Convertino said. "Winning the 2018 MACJC North Division Championship and making it a three-peat is a remarkable achievement. This year's group of players have left their mark on the history of our program.
"I'm not only proud of the players but of the coaching staff as well," he added. "Since I am the head coach of both men's and women's soccer here at Holmes Community College my time is divided 50/50 between both programs. That being said, one of the Wesley's primary duties is to serve as recruiting coordinator. He has done a tremendous job over the last three seasons taking our recruiting to the next level and bringing in some of the state's top talent to Holmes so I am very proud of him as well as the players. Wesley was captain for me here at Holmes so it has been a great to see him develop and grow as a coach."
Noble sees strength and depth as being the keys to success this season.
"I think our main strength is that we are completely solid on each line," Noble said. "We don't really have an area where we are struggling right now. Our depth will help us as well. We have players coming off the bench that don't allow the level to drop when they come on. This is what has kind of driven us all year long. We have been able to start a different 11 each game because of how many players are stepping up each week at training."
If Holmes plays their game, Noble said the Lady Bulldogs should see success this weekend.
"Staying disciplined and the girls just "being them" will be what we have to do this weekend," he said. "We have been very consistent all year with the way we want to play and we have to continue to do that.
"We won't change anything over the next couple of days," he said. "We will just sharpen up a few things to make sure we are ready. I think if we play like "us" then we have a really good shot at achieving our goals."
"The team has had a great run of results this season going 15-0-0 and setting a program record for the most wins in a season here a Holmes Community College," Convertino said. "The culture of the team is in a great place at the moment and the players have bought into the plan set forth by the coaching staff from day one. They show up with a commitment to make themselves and the team better every day. And when that is happening great things are going to happen. That being said this year's team is playing for something greater than themselves. They are carrying the memory of Taylor Gagneaux in their hearts and want to win for her and her family."
Noble and Convertino ask that as many fans as possible make the trip to Ellisville this week.
"We need as many Holmes fans at these games as possible," Noble said. "A solid crowd can always help push the girls to keep going when games get intense. I think everyone who comes out will be in for a really good weekend of soccer all the way across the board. The competition will be extremely fun to watch."
"Having support from our student body, faculty and administration as well as our player's families means the world to our team," Convertino said. "There is a strong sense of school pride within the program so having supporters at the tournament reinforces that."