POPLARVILLE— The quest for a sixth MACJC State Championship will officially begin Thursday when Pearl River's women's soccer team opens the playoffs at Itawamba. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be streamed live at LetsGoICCTV.com/red.
The two teams opened the season against one another in Poplarville. Now one team will have its season bookended by the familiar opponent — with the Lady Wildcats hoping there are chapters left to be written about the 2018 season.
Itawamba (9-4-1; 5-3 MACJC North) pulled out a 4-1 victory in the season opener against PRCC (7-7-1; 4-3-1 MACJC South), but coach Jack Byrd said both teams will look drastically different Thursday. In fact, only a fraction of the starters who opened the year for both teams are being deployed in the same roles.
"I think they're a different team," Byrd said. "They have improved in a lot of areas, but I think we have as well."
Byrd said one thing that stands out about ICC is how the Lady Indians have settled into a system as their young players matured throughout the season.
"They'll really be on the attack. You have to watch the buildup from the back because they play quickly," he said. "We're going to have to do the little things right. We're going to have to punish their mistakes, which will be few, and limit ours."
Thanks to a similar maturation from his players over the course of the season, Byrd sees a different team suiting up in maroon and gold as well.
"I think we're a better team heading into this matchup because we have found positions where people are the most comfortable," he said. "Even in losses we have learned about ourselves."
Rena Gordon (Clarendon, Jamaica) is the unquestioned leader of PRCC's attack with 16 goals and four assists. Skylar Spears (Clarkdale) is second on the squad with five goals and leads the team in assists with six.
Grace Joyce leads ICC with 11 goals, while Sarah Whitt is second on the team with eight. Lexi Pund has a team-high eight assists.
Winner of Thursday's contest will play Jones at 5 p.m. Saturday in Ellisville. The women's championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at JC.