By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — The South Effingham boys soccer team returns nine starters, brings in a strong freshman class and adds a talented junior who has been part of the Major League Soccer NEXT program.
Mustangs’ coach DaKota Paradice can’t wait to kick off the season Friday night against West Laurens.
“We have a really good team. I’m excited to get going,” said Paradice, whose squad finished 13-6 last season and advanced to the Class 6A state tournament.
South’s girls will be in action at 4 pm to begin the soccer doubleheader at the Corral. The boys play at 6.
Effingham County’s boys and girls soccer open their seasons Tuesday (Jan. 31) at home against Tattnall County.
Other spring sports kick into gear the following week. SEHS baseball begins its season Feb. 6 at home against Islands. ECHS opens the next day (Feb. 7) in Jesup against Wayne County.
Rebels tennis starts Tuesday (Jan. 31) against Savannah Christian. The Mustangs open against Screven County (Feb. 7).
Lacrosse rolls into action with the SEHS boys at Savannah Christian (Feb. 6), the ECHS boys scrimmaging Calvary (Feb. 8) and the Rebels’ girls at Hilton Head (Feb. 9).
Spring teams will face new rivalries because of regional realignment and the competitive play of soccer might be better than ever. Region 2 newcomers Grovetown (16-3 a year ago), Lakeside (14-5-2) and Evans (9-8) finished 1-2-3 in Region 3 last spring and each team advanced to at least the second round of the state tournament.
And defending regional champion Glynn Academy remains a team to beat after posting a 20-1 record a year ago.
South finished third in the region.
“(The Augusta-area schools) play quality soccer and have quality athletes and that’s just going to make all of us better,” Paradice said. “Being ready to play at a high level is what it takes at state.”
Experience doesn’t hurt either. South returns goalie Chase Hoffman, versatile Logan Cribbs and center midfielder Grady Smith. All three seniors will be team captains.
Other returnees to watch are defenders Tyler Quick, Chris Garcia and Christian Fuentes, and Robert Clark and Devin Corley.
Quick, a junior, did the placekicking and punting on the football team. He’ll move from the midfield to center back in soccer.
Last season, defense keyed the Mustangs’ success. The defense recorded seven shutouts. Five opponents were held to just one goal.
Striker/attacking midfielder Edson Escobar should give SEHS’ offense a jolt. The junior joins the Mustangs after elite training with Savannah United and Tormenta FC.
And South’s future looks bright, Paradice said. He’ll have 10 freshmen on his roster.
“This is the best (group of freshmen) since I got here,” Paradice said.