Bobcat men's soccer team aims to make playoffs
Written By: Shawn Wansley
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date Submitted: 2011-08-25 14:37:58
By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – The Jones County Junior College men’s soccer team finished with an 8-7 record in 2010.
But they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years and sixth-year head coach Oleg Baleyev wants that to change this year.
“The goal, as it is every year, is to make it to the playoffs,” he said. “The South Division will be tough with Gulf Coast and Pearl River having good teams. Of course, Hinds will be tough in the North because they always have good players.”
JCJC opens regular season play at 5 p.m. on Friday in Ridgeland vs. Holmes Community College. The Bulldogs finished second in the North Division last year and qualified for the MACJC State Tournament, which was held at Jones.
Baleyev said the Bobcats had talent last year, but injuries took its toll early in the season.
“Last year, we had good players, but we lost our keeper early in the season,” Baleyev said. “That was not a good situation. It’s like not having a quarterback in football or not having pitchers in baseball.”
The Bobcats have a balanced roster this season. They have 21 players with 10 sophomores and 11 freshmen.
Baleyev notes that the incoming group of freshmen is strong academically, too.
“We’ve got those freshmen coming in and six of them have an ACT of 23 or higher,” he said. “We’ve never had that many before. So, my goal was not only to bring good soccer players into the program, but good students, too.”
The Bobcats will have three sophomore captains this year.
Dillon Boatner and Mason Tabb, both of Clarkdale, and Kyle Upchurch of Terry will be the Bobcat tri-captains, as selected by their teammates.
“It was a very close vote,” Baleyev said. “We had six guys that were in the mix, but those three came out on top.”
The Bobcats also are balanced as far as positions go.
Working as midfielders are Boatner, Tabb, sophomore Giuliano Mancini of Miami, Fla., sophomore Dusty Pittman of George County, sophomore Juan Benitez of West Jones, sophomore Tyler Alexander of Pearl River Central, freshman Cole Mitchell of Florence, freshman Tanner Morris of Petal, freshman Tyler Jarrett of D’Iberville and freshman Bowen Terrill of Oak Grove.
Mancini was an All-MACJC selection last year.
Defenders this season will be Upchurch, sophomore Logan Martin and freshman Andrew Baggett of Florence, sophomore Brandon Lee of Pearl River Central, sophomore Joseph Torrence of Pearl, freshman Tyler Mooney of Petal, freshman Phillip Henderson of Vancleave, freshman Chris McCraney of Warren Central and freshman Forrest Proctor of George County.
The goalkeepers will be a pair of freshmen: Alan Davidson of George County and Justin Phillips of Vancleave.
Baleyev is quite pleased with the way the Bobcats have meshed as a team.
“The one major difference from this year to last year is that we are giving 100 percent effort,” he said. “They have a very positive attitude. The players are doing what I ask them to do and there is no negativity on the field. I am pleased with the way they are doing things.”
While the goal for the entire season is to win games and make the playoffs, Baleyev said the team achieved a couple of small goals during preseason.
“The goal for the preseason was to get in shape and avoid injuries,” he said. “I think we are on the right track there. We also wanted an understanding of where we needed to be going into the regular season.”
The Bobcats have played two scrimmages to get ready for regular season play. Baleyev said the team competed well, but those games showed him there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We have had two preseason games against William Carey and East Central,” he said. “William Carey is a good NAIA program with a lot of foreign players. I wanted the guys to get used to that high pace of play. My hope was for our team to understand what needs to be done to play as good or better at that level.
“Our quality of play needs to improve and our players know that, too. Hopefully, I can instill confidence in my players so we can go on to have a great season.”
Baleyev said the most noticeable problem shown in the scrimmages has been an inability to control and possess the ball.
“It’s just like in football, the more turnovers you have, the tougher it’s going to be,” he said. “That is what has happened in our scrimmages, we are just turning the ball over way too much.”
Still, Baleyev is pleased with the progress the Bobcats have made so far, especially when it comes to teamwork.
“The freshmen and sophomores are mixing well on and off the field,” he said. “They are showing respect to each other. The foundation of our program is built on respect, hard work and dedication.
“A few of the freshmen are still kind of shy, I guess. That’s how it usually is, but they will have to adjust to the college life.”
Baleyev stressed that defense will be the deciding factor of whether or not the Bobcats can advance to postseason play this year.
“We are playing an offensive style, so it will be very important for our defenders to defend well,” Baleyev said. “That will be the key to our success. We have a number of forwards who will be rotating in and out and our forwards are our first line of defense.
“It is very challenging for them, not only as the first line of defense, but as the first line of attack. They have to score goals and defend at the same time.”
Overall, Baleyev has no complaints about his group going into the season opener.
“Our guys play very fair, they are hard-nosed and they hustle,” he said. “But they are not dirty. That’s a good sign.”
One thing to note about Bobcat Soccer Field this year is the addition of lights. A large crowd was on hand for the team’s game vs. East Central earlier this week and Baleyev believes playing at night was a big factor.
“We are excited to have lights this year,” he said. “Not only would it be difficult to play in the games in the heat, it would be difficult to watch the games, too. Plus, anytime the games are in the evening more parents are able to come out and cheer for us. That helps us because a majority of our players are from an hour or two away.
“Having the parents there makes you want to play better.”
The Bobcats will receive a stern test right off the bat.
Holmes qualified for the playoffs last year and defeated the Bobcats, 2-1, during the season.
“No doubt, they will be a good test for us,” Baleyev said. “It is always a close matchup. It’s good for us and for them to see how the season is going to go.”
The first home match for the JCJC men will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 7 against Itawamba.