POPLARVILLE, Miss. — In a lot of ways last season was one to remember for Pearl River's men's soccer program. Fresh off the MACJC Championship in 2017, the Wildcats won their first seven matches and eventually climbed into the United Soccer Coaches national rankings for the first time in program history. But PRCC ultimately came up just short of repeating as State Champs, a fact that has motivated many of the returning Wildcats.
When PRCC broke for preseason camp Sunday night, many of the Wildcats had an added chip on their shoulders.
"We've talked a lot about what we can do, what we did wrong last year and what we can do to fix it this year," sophomore Kealan Baggett (Ocean Springs) said. "I think we're going to come out strong this year."
Through the first five days, Baggett said there's a natural progression as veterans blend with newcomers.
"We're all super sore but we've been working hard. I think it's gone really good so far," he said. "We really just want to know one another and get a better understanding of what we have and play some of these preseason games against teams like William Carey."
Head coach Drew Gallant is set to enter his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater. Through Thursday's morning practice, the former All-American striker has been impressed with his team — particularly the Wildcats' form.
"Everything's going well. The team came in very fit. The freshmen are surprisingly more fit than we'd expect for freshmen coming in," he said. "… It's real exciting for us."
The Wildcats have been training without two internationals, Shande James and Taja Brown from Clarendon, Jamaica. Gallant expects both players to be available for Sunday's training session with a chance to see minutes Monday when the team plays an exhibition at William Carey.
As for the players who are already on campus, Gallant has been impressed with a number of the Wildcats.
"Piper MacNeil (Sheffield, England) and Miguel Hernandez (Gulfport) have really come in and played well," he said. "Cooper Grafe, we knew he was good from last year but he really stepped up and has taken more of a leadership role this season."
The Wildcats have a couple tune-ups ahead, playing at William Carey on Aug. 12, against West Alabama on Aug. 17 and then at Mississippi College on Aug. 24. Pearl River will officially open the 2019 season Aug. 26 at Hinds. After a road trip to LSU-Eunice two days later, PRCC will host Meridian at 7 p.m. Aug. 30.
As with all the fall teams, the Wildcats will be introduced to the public as part of the annual Meet the Wildcat festivities on Aug. 22.
HOW TO TUNE IN
Aug. 8, 2019 men's soccer practice