By Shawn Wansley
Jones College Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – Jones College won its first ever MACJC men's soccer title last season.
Head coach Brendan Connolly is anxious to see how his team fares on the field as the defending state champion.
"We've never been in that situation before," he said. "It's new to us. Our goal last year was just to get better all the time and enjoy the process. We have a similar goal this year. We want to enjoy the process and the season."
The Bobcats went 15-3 and defeated Southwest 2-1 in overtime at Bobcat Soccer Field to claim the championship. The following week in the Region 23 title game, Jones tied LSU-Eunice 4-4, but the Bengals advanced on penalty kicks.
Jones, however, qualified for the NJCAA South District playoffs for the first time in school history, dropping a 3-0 decision at Tyler Junior College (Texas).
Connolly said winning the conference championship was great last year, but that will not carry over into 2019.
"It was a really enjoyable year last year, but this is a brand new team," he said. "We have a lot of new people and new players coming in and they need to step up and be leaders and be key players. We just need to get everybody together on the same page and build that team chemistry."
The Bobcats return several sophomores who played major roles in the 2018 title run.
Those include goalkeeper Callum Harley (Whitney Bay, England), midfielders' Cris Rodrigo (Northwest Rankin), Jordan Cochran (George County), Reggie Pech (Clarkdale) and Malachi Harrison (Northeast Jones), defender Adrian Mondragon (Northwest Rankin), forwards Justis Casey (Greene County), Adam Stone (Oak Grove) and Luke Cummings (West Jones). Jonny Lorenzo (George County) is back as a keeper, while defender Sam Williamson (Sumrall) was a manager on last year's team. Sophomore defender Peyton Pound (Gautier) is a transfer from Southwest and sophomore midfielder Peyton Ratcliff (Northwest Rankin) is a transfer from William Carey.
"Most of our returning sophomores played for us last year," Connolly said. "Even some of the players who did not play as much were a great influence off the field. Having their experience from last year is big because they know what it takes to win. Using that information to get across to the freshmen is going to be vital for us in order to have a successful year."
The Jones freshmen class possesses plenty of ability.
Among those newcomers will be goalkeeper Peyton Wilbanks (Madison Central), defenders Matt Burke (Brandon), Mason Morgan (Jackson Prep), Zach Diaz (Madison Central) and Drew Davis (George County), forwards Chris Dempsey (Belfast, Ireland), Alejandro Pocasangre (Pearl), Itai Allen (Wolverhampton, England) and Hayden Mills (Oak Grove) and midfielders Adam Lynch (Sligo, Ireland) and John Mark Rose (Jackson Prep).
"From the success we had last year we were able to bring in a lot of talent," Connolly said. "We have a lot of talent on our squad right now."
Jones played two preseason scrimmages vs. four-year schools in the preseason. The Bobcats dropped a 4-0 decision to nationally ranked William Carey and a 6-0 contest at Auburn-Montgomery.
Connolly said those games will help the Bobcats heading into regular season play.
"We've had two scrimmages and we kind of treat those like team bond and team building sessions, as well as a test to see how we react and how our team is ready to go," he said. "I think with the scrimmages, we passed with a C. We still have a lot of work to do, but overall we had a lot of energy.
"The boys are fit and motivated to be better. We just have to work and improve on our leadership and team chemistry right now. But preseason has been really good for us. We've put in lots of hard work with a lot of energy."
The Bobcats open the season with a 7 p.m. match at Hinds on Aug. 22. They play their home opener at 4 p.m. on Aug. 24 vs. Itawamba and visit Holmes on Aug. 26. They begin South Division play at home at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30 vs. Mississippi Gulf Coast.
"I don't think we've ever won at Hinds," Connolly said. "I don't think there is a tougher test for us. We have Hinds, Itawamba and Holmes all in the space of about five days. It's a tough start for the season, but that's why we are here. We are here to play games and enjoy it.
"We have about nine months to prepare to get here. A lot of times people put too much pressure on themselves and they don't fully enjoy the season. We are just trying to enjoy it."
The top three teams in the division qualify for the playoffs and Connolly said anyone could make it.
"The South Division will be strong again this year," he said. "Anybody can qualify from the South Division into the postseason. We just have to be prepared when division play starts and be at our potential."
Assisting Connolly this season will be Grant Adam.
"It's great to have Grant on board," Connolly said. "It's good to have somebody with a winning mindset to bounce ideas off of as well. The work he is doing with our goalkeepers is great and he is also doing quality strength and conditioning work with the team. He is bringing a lot of positive elements to the program."
The MACJC Tournament will be played at the site of the North Division champion on Oct. 26-27 with the Region 23 Tournament set for Nov. 2 at LSU-Eunice.