The South Pontotoc boys soccer team has had an impressive first month of the 2019-20 campaign. After only posting a 2-11 record last year, the Cougars, under first-year head coach Chris Vineyard, started the season 5-0, picking up wins over Vardaman, Nettleton (twice), Booneville and Winona.
"You hope to instill what level of confidence you can, but there is nothing greater than the confidence that comes from winning," coach Vineyard said. "For them to win five in a row being so young, I think they now believe they can do big things."
The Cougars have a number of players who are skilled with the ball, including eighth graders Noah Fleming and Gable Steward, junior Rene Martinez, senior Ivan Martinez, freshman Salvador Diaz and sophomore Ezequiel Martinez.
Defensively South has only allowed eight goals in five regular season contests, including only one (regulation) goal in each of their last three games. The unit is anchored by freshman goalkeeper Marcus Holley, who has notched 41 saves over the past four games.
"Offensively we are pretty good," Vineyard said. "All of my offensive guys including midfielders are returners. The ability to push the ball down the field and score in soccer is an invaluable asset. Defensively, we are strong. We also have a great goalie that allows us to put more people forward and play less people on defense.
"We have also gotten contributions from guys up and down the bench."
One of the keys to the Cougars' start is simply is a determination to compete exceptionally hard. The team's mantra for the year, emblazoned on shirts, is "relentless."
"Our seniors picked it, so that motto wasn't put forth by me. It was theirs to begin with," Vineyard said. "I've got really good senior leaders, and these young guys have bought in behind them."
That mettle has shown itself so far, as two of their five victories have come in penalty kick shootouts.
The confidence gained will be needed, as the schedule the rest of the way is daunting. The Cougars are competing in Region 2-4A and have two division matchups each against the likes of Caledonia, Pontotoc and Mooreville. South's other divisional foes are Itawamba AHS and Shannon. They also face Vardaman, Senatobia and Oxford in non-division action.
"Our division is very good," Vineyard said. "Winning won't be our only measure of success going forward, but we do want to compete and be in every game."