By John Davis, Sports Editor
It was a historic year on the pitch for girls soccer at both Lafayette and Oxford. <>
Both teams played for the state championships in their respective classes. On the same day. Oxford won its first title in the sport to make the day even sweeter.
Oh, and Alley Houghton became the all-time leader in goals scored in the history of Mississippi soccer. She also signed with Ole Miss on her birthday. The 2015-16 season was indeed memorable.
From both teams winning 20 games to the two classic head-to-head matchups, the Lady Chargers and Lady Commodores made soccer a lot of fun.
This year’s All-Citizen soccer team features some of the state’s best players. Anna Dennis, sisters Morgan and Bailey O’Connor, Ally Shinall, Zoe Scruggs and Jordyn Repka represent Oxford. Dennis and Bailey O’Connor are juniors. Shinall is a sophomore. Scruggs and Repka are seniors.
Leading Lafayette is another sister combo, Alley and Maddy Houghton. Nikki Kesler, Emma Wilson, Rachel Watkins and Kirkland Pruitt represent the Lady Commodores. Kesler, Alley Houghton and Watkins were seniors. Pruitt was a junior, Maddy Houghton and Wilson were sophomores.
“Each one of them have special traits in and of themselves and when you put them together collectively, they can do do some special things,” Lafayette coach Melinda Scruggs said. “I think they are all well deserving of getting on the team.”
Oxford’s Lady Chargers were coach by Hunter Crane, who was able to bring together a group and make them very close, just like sisters. His best scorer, Morgan O’Connor, finished with 27 goals, including the game-winner in the 5A title match. Not bad for anyone let alone a player who still technically isn’t even in high school.
“It’s really not as big of a surprise. I’ve known Morgan and her family since they got to Oxford. For her to be the focal point of the offense like she was was very special,” Crane said. “She’s a hard worker who is very humble. That’s all you can ask for from your players. She doesn’t get star struck or a big head. She is always looking to get her teammates involved in a play and things like that. She was clutch down the stretch for us and she was a very important factor in our championship run.”
Alley Houghton finished the season with 65 goals scored, her second best overall effort in high school. The Lady Commodores were one of the top offensive teams in the state, and they finished with a 20-3 overall mark as well as with the MHSAA Class 4A north state title.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from any of them in the past two years,” Scruggs said. “To at least get there and be in second is pretty darn awesome as well considering all the competition we have in this state. It’s hard to do back-to-back. I do think we were up for the challenge and we at least got ourselves there. We played a very good team, but that doesn’t take anything away from what we have accomplished so far at Lafayette. They put in so much hard work, effort, time in the effort to get themselves back there. And we were able to achieve that.”
Scruggs, who played her college soccer at Ole Miss, is very familiar with the Oxford players. She and Crane get along well, and she was very happy for what the Lady Chargers accomplished this season.
“I am so thrilled for a few things. One, to see these kids develop from 10 or 12 years old when I first met a lot of them on the club scene or at OPC,” Scruggs said. “To see them go from that age to now be developed soccer players and some going on to play college ball or some still being in high school. To see what they achieved at Oxford High School and what we have at Lafayette, if we combine those groups, I can’t imagine. It would be a stellar group together. It would be tough to beat. There is such talent in this town and it’s grown so much since I’ve been here when I came to Ole Miss as a player. It was non existent from a club team standpoint and you can see it making a difference at the high school level, too. To have two teams down in Jackson was super exciting for me.”
Crane agreed that two teams, and what they accomplished, showed just how good the players in the area had become.
“The group in total speaks volumes to just how far Oxford soccer has come, the city of Oxford and I’ve said it before but the city has really embraced soccer. It’s a huge factor with the clubs and stuff like that being in Oxford,” Crane said. “The interest we have in it, and the talent level that we have here is amazing. This group, as a whole, is very star studded. And they would definitely be able to play with anybody in the state.”
Shinall was second on the team with 15 goals scored, and Crane said she played a lot more mature than her class status as a sophomore.
“She doesn’t shy away from being one of the younger players. I think she plays with a chip on her shoulder and I think the girls do look up to her as a leader,” Crane said. “She is a special talent as well. She has speed and the track and cross country coaches love her as well. They want to have her all the time, but soccer is first love. She just brings it every single day. She was running with cross country when the season started and she missed all the preseason work. She had to come in and earn spot, it wasn’t given to her and she hasn’t looked back.”