Lady Titans shooting for 5th title

Ridgeland High School's girl's soccer team has a short history. But what a history it is. In the four and a half years the Lady Titans have been playing soccer, they have dominated their competition to the tune of four straight state championships. That's four years with four titles.

When coach Josh Avenmarg began the program at the newly formed school in Madison County, he was expecting to build a program with good but young players that would take a couple of seasons to really make some noise. But the first season's success was a pleasant surprise. "If you would have told me five years ago we'd have four [state titles] I never would have dreamed that" But ever since that first year with its title run, championships have become their expectation.

When asked about the keys to the Lady Titan program, Avenmarg points to the kids buying into the program. They have bought into each other as teammates and what the coaches are teaching. And that is "accept nothing less than your best. It's a day to day philosophy that is more words. It's those girls going out there and performing it in each practice and in each game."

The other big key to the program is the support of the parents, the school administration and the community. "The group of parents I've had for the last five years...best group that exists." And with the level of support that the whole city of Ridgeland gives, it makes the girls take pride in how they play. "They're not just playing for Ridgeland High School, but the entire community they're representing," says Avenmarg.

But he admits that it gets tougher with the success of their past. "They don't understand completely they bull's eye that's on them and how hard it is to keep that standard of excellence where it is. Lombardi said, ‘To be a champion is great, but to maintain it is even more special' So we keep setting higher goals." Some of those goals they have set are to defeat some teams they have never won against and to have an undefeated season. But they've set those goals with five new starters on the field.

This past month the Brooke Welch Memorial Tournament was held at Freedom Ridge Park. It was the second year Avenmarg had coordinated the event and was pleased with the success. The first year they were able to bring in twenty one teams. But this year they wanted to get more out of state teams involved. And boy did they. "I'm not sure how word got down to Tallahassee and Miami, but we ended up with 38 teams and [nearly all] could play with anyone at any time."

Much of the tournament participation consisted of the top boys and girls teams here in Mississippi. Avenmarg credits a lot of the tournament's success to the instate participation. "I told the other coaches, 'it's your teams that made the tournament what it is. You bring in quality competition and everyone wants to play them.'" But Avenmarg was sure to point out that none of it would have been possible with out the support and help of the Parks and Recreation department of Ridgeland. And as great as things turned out, they are already working on details to improve the tournament for next year.

While most Division I college coaches do most of their player scouting at club tournaments and showcases, there were between twelve and fifteen D2 and Juco coaches present at the tournament. Avenmarg sees the Ridgeland Tournament as a means for some kids to get the opportunity to get noticed. They can show what they can do and get picked up to play at a higher level. "High school sports isn't about feeding kids into college programs. But one of the benefits is being offered the chance to be able to do it for another two or four years. I'm hoping the tournament starts acting as a catalyst for that."

An ongoing debate in prep soccer is the participation of high school players in select and club programs during the high school season. It has been a heated conversation for the past two seasons. But Avenmarg says he sees no reason that the two cannot coexist and benefit each other, but that the lines of communication have to be open. "I'm all for it," he says. "You have to understand that kids get the notoriety from the bigger schools by being involved with this club or that club. On the high school level they get the publicity in the local paper and have family and friends come see them play." Playing for your high school is all about school spirit which is alive and well in the Mississippi ranks. Just look at the MST soccer forums if you do not believe it.

He goes on to say it is a case of give and take and, "if my kid misses part of a practice or participates in a tournament and misses a non district game...big deal! She's going to go off and play three quality teams over two days. She's getting better, which means she's comes back to us and make our team better." Coach Avenmarg says that both teams working together ultimately helps the kids which is what he says he is there for anyway.

Anyone who follows soccer in Mississippi knows who Rachel Givan is. And Givan has been a major gear in the Lady Titan machine. Avenmarg recognizes her as the most intense player he has coached. She pushes herself as hard as she possibly can no matter the level of competition. Givan is set to play soccer next year for the University of North Carolina where she will be only the 11th player in UNC history to receive a full athletic scholarship.

But the Titans are not a one trick pony. They continue to see new faces step up each year to make a difference. Other standouts are Kelsy Givan, a junior defender and sister of Rachel who has been a cornerstone in the Titan defense, Becca MacNeill, who Avenmarg says has been the hardest working athlete he's ever been around...period. And their keeper Ashley McQuirk.< br>
This week sees the Lady Titans facing the Lady Jags of Madison Central. This is a natural rivalry because of the short distance betwen each school and the fact that Ridgeland High broke away from Madison Central in its formation. "MC is one of the teams we've never beaten before," Avenmarg says. It's a game both teams have had circled on their schedule. And one that matches two of the top girls soccer programs in the state of Mississippi."Coach Curley and those girls work extremely hard."

If you are in the Jackson Metro area on Wednesday the 20th, you will not want to miss this one.

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