Both Amory soccer teams didn’t get to play as many games as they had on their summer schedule originally, mostly due to weather, but they did get to enjoy a much busier summer than last year, when no games were allowed to be played.
“We got to go do some 7-on-7 this summer and also some 11 versus 11. As far as our kids, we’re seeing improvements from the one we have had just since the season until now,” Amory coach Nathan Clayton said. “Some of them have taken some good strides. We have had some younger players that were just average junior varsity players that right now, they are going to be in a position where they might be able to give us some minutes in varsity this year.”
On the boys’ side, the Panthers are fresh off a season in which they were one goal away from playing for a state championship.
They lose just one starter, but it’s a big loss in Daily Journal Player of the Year Bryn Camp.
Clayton said he’s seen such an improvement in the boys’ team that plenty of depth has been built up to fill that spot and provide for plenty of competition at the other slots.
“We told them, ‘Every week is going to be a tryout for you,’ because there are a lot of positions where we have multiple players that can play that spot, pretty much the same person with maybe a few different variations of skill set as far as what they can do,” Clayton said. “When you look at it overall, if you’re rating them like a video game, they are all 84’s and it’s just a matter of what calculates that 84 with it.”
Much of the improvement has shown in the freshmen, sophomore and junior groups, with a seasoned large senior class coming back.
“We saw a big jump in some of our ninth and tenth-graders from February until now. They have made good strides and good improvements, so we’re excited about what the future is going to hold this year,” Clayton said. “Izaiah Legaspi has improved tremendously since February. Ben Gault had a really good summer for us. Keith Byars got to play a little bit at the very beginning of last year before the football guys came back, and I think he’s someone who will be able to give us some depth. Walker Mitchell has gotten a little bit better in the attack aspect of it. Cayden (Smith) has improved, and there are several in that junior bunch that will be able to give us some really good minutes.”
Both teams had some key injuries that caused players to miss the entire season last year, and Clayton said it was good to have defender Campbell Erikson back on the girls’ side and seniors T.J. Huppert and Clayton Reese on the boys’ side.
“It’s exciting getting those three back. None of them got to really train at all, so that’s been really good to have them back,” he said. “We have seen some improvements from some of our younger players that were seventh graders last year in the girls, like Mylie Williams and Allie Goldman. They have both really come on and improved since last year. Audrey Kate McComb really evolved and played really well this summer from last year, especially in training at defensive mid. We got her out of that knee brace, and it’s amazing how much faster she got and playing with confidence.”
Amory played quality competition on both sides, particularly at the Meridian Tournament, and found success against those teams.
The girls faced West Lauderdale, winner of several state championships, and the boys played against Clarkdale, this year’s state runnerup.
“We also played Northeast Jones, which is always good on both sides, and the Lamar girls’ team we played was awesome, and we held our own with them,” Clayton said. “We were able to beat Clarkdale by a few goals. All this behind us was kind of good, gauging where we’re at compared to some other teams and helping to build depth more than anything.”
Defense showed up as a strength throughout the summer for both teams, with each team bringing back their entire defense.
On both sides, Clayton rotated several players in and out at goalkeeper, seeing a particularly strong summer from senior Landon Koehn in the goal for the Panthers.
The guys going to that 7-on-7 at Meridian and only giving up one goal was big. To go there and give up five or less would be awesome, but to only give up one, that’s remarkable,” Clayton said. “Landon had some key saves, like on a penalty kick in the Saltillo Tournament, and it’s either a 0-0 or 1-0 game at that point. They shoot bottom left, and he dives and saves it. There were several in the Meridian Tournament where people took some good quality shots, and he made plays on it. That’s going to be big for us. When they do break our back line, he’s going to be able to step up and make a big save for it. For the guys, we got T.J. Huppert and Tyler Sledge some minutes in the goal, as well as on the girls, we had Hannah Moore, Annabelle Holman, Audrey Kate McComb and Leecie Martin all in there.”
While the Panthers are losing their leading scorer, Clayton pointed out a wide variety of players scoring in both of the tournaments they played in at Meridian and Saltillo.
Amory had ten-plus players find the back of the net against quality competition at Meridian, and also several different ones contribute with goals and assists in the Saltillo Tournament to close the summer.
“If you’re a threat to score from anybody in the attack, it makes it harder for the defense to single anybody out,” Clayton said. “It makes them have to make better decisions in the back, whereas if it’s one person, they just know we have to step to this person and stop it. That’s what we’re hoping for, that this year, we have as many that can score.”One thing we have to get better on with both teams is our movement and our shape movement in the attack. That’s one thing we will focus on when we come in August is speed in the attack.”