The Jaguars are on the prowl this week for some hardware — the Highland Hills Jaguars, that is.
Its boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer programs — comprised of seventh- and eighth-graders — have been in super form during the regular season against Louisville opponents.
This is only their second year playing in the Jefferson County (Ky.) Middle School Soccer League. But it will be the first time the teams take part in the league’s knockout tournament, which runs until next Monday.
And hopes of success are high for Southern Indiana’s only participants, as the talented teams have been blazing a trail these past few weeks.
The Lady Jaguars, coached by Lewie Stevens, have been simply purring, notching up five wins out of five, scoring 36 goals and conceding just one in the process. Leading the way have been the likes of Emma Pappas, Presley Roos, Samanta Garcia and Christin Miller.
The boys’ team, meanwhile, has gone 5-1, with its only defeat against highly regarded Noe Middle School.
This evening, the Jaguars will take on Western Middle School at Thomas Jefferson at 6:45 p.m. in what will be a tough first-round game, as the Louisville opposition has a 6-2 record this year.
“I’m hopeful we will play well, having only lost one game in regular season,” said Highland Hills coach Tim Rice.
He has reason to be optimistic. Of the 17 strong roster, only two aren’t on club teams, while three of them are Olympic Development Program players — Tyler McGeorge, Parker Bussabarger-Davidenkoff and Zach Yagle.
Rice, who has been involved in coaching for a number of years with Southern Indiana United and now Javanon 98/99 Red, said he approached principal Steve Griffin about starting a soccer program in 2009. Unbeknownst to him, another parent, Scott Menne, also had the same idea, and from there it took off.
As well as the boys’ and girls’ varsity outfits, there is a junior varsity team consisting of sixth-graders who will be ready to move up a notch next year.
Of course, there has been a budget issue to run the three teams. But the club has been blessed by the fundraising efforts of parents, which helps pay for equipment. They see the benefits of having the club.
“If we didn’t have a soccer program, none of these kids would be involved in a school sport,” said Rice. “None of them play baseball and there are few that crossover.”
Highland Hills’ success augurs well for the future of Floyd Central High School. For example, eight of the boys’ players from last year have gone on to play for the Highlanders, while 11 will be moving on to the school this fall.
Girls’ numbers are somewhat similar, said Rice, and coaches believe their participation at the middle school level has prevented losing talent to the likes of volleyball by the time high school comes along.
Although acknowledging that budget constraints are an issue at the moment, Rice hopes other local schools can introduce soccer programs in the near future.
“I would love to see teams started in schools like Scribner, Hazelwood, River Valley and the surrounding areas,” he said. “I’d like to see it happening on this side of the river.”
Partly to see a potential improvement in the quality of the game locally, and partly because of the transformation he observes when his players put on a school jersey.
“They show more pride when they play for their school,” he believes. “They’re getting to play with their friends and you can just see the difference.”