Brookhaven Academy girls’ soccer set to kick off season at home

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Brookhaven Academy girls’ soccer team will be the first area team to get the 2023-2024 athletic calendar started next week when they host the Hattiesburg Forerunners at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25.

BA is under the direction of third-year head coach Alex Brown, who’s led the team to a pair of district titles in the last two years.

Last season, the Cougars went 14-4-1 overall and finished 7-1 in district play before dropping a 3-1 loss to Madison-St. Joe in the quarterfinals of the MAIS playoffs.

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It was the second straight year for St. Joe to eliminate BA in the postseason, but it won’t happen this season as the Bruins from Madison have moved up to the 6A ranks as one of the six largest schools in the MAIS.

Brown is replacing only one full-time starter from the 2022 squad in Kate LeBlanc as he enters the season with 18 players on the varsity roster.

“We feel really good about our numbers,” said Brown. “We’ve got 20 girls on our junior varsity team that are in grades six through eight. It’s important to develop them in that program so we can keep feeding the varsity roster in the future.”

Leading the returnees is 2022 Daily Leader All-Area selection Reagan Fortenberry. The physical Fortenberry led the Cougars with 24 goals scored last season as a junior after joining the team just before her sophomore season began.

“Later in the year, everyone started to figure out what Reagan was capable of when she touches the ball and she started seeing more double teams and even triple teams at times,” said Brown. “A big part of what we’ve been doing in our summer workouts is trying to work out ways to combat that type of pressure and free up looks for other people.”

The second leading scorer from last season, Mallory Martin, is also returning as a senior leader for Brown.

“Mallory is the most creative playmaker that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Brown. “She’s extremely good with the ball on her feet and a great dribbler. Getting it to the right spot at the right time is a big part of what she’s going to do to help our team.”

Martin was also tabbed for the DL All-Area team last year.

Sophomore Karen Hernandez will also have a big role in distributing the ball in the midfield.

The strength of the 2022 team was a defensive backline that gave up just 13 goals in 19 games.

“We’ve got a couple juniors in Matti Claire Smith and Ava Calcote that became starters as freshmen and they’ve really grown into important pieces for us defensively,” said Brown. “Ramsey Brown is another senior that plays on our defense and does so with a type of physicality that we need.”

Last season was the first for Ainsley Orr to take over at the goalkeeper position. Brown had thought Orr would make the transition in a shining fashion and that’s exactly what happened, as Orr was picked for The Daily Leader All-Area team among other honors.

“You can really see Ainsley growing in her confidence with how vocal she’s been in our summer scrimmages and workouts,” said Brown. “She’s gone to some goalie camps this summer as well and her height and length give us such an advantage in the net.”

The 5-foot-11 Orr is a junior who came off the bench last season for a BA girls’ basketball team that won a MAIS state title.

Brown sees Olivia Case, Chloe Nelson, Livi Fortenberry and Camille Calcote as young players who will all see an increased role as the season goes along. The team also added two more basketball players who are giving soccer a try in twins Mary Anson and Susanna Tate.

“We have a senior that joined us last year for the first time as a junior in Carmen Lambert,” said Brown. “I had taught Carmen as a sophomore and encouraged her to give soccer a try. She put in the work and by the end of the season, we had some big matches where Carmen was out there playing a ton of minutes for us. If you’re athletic and willing to learn the game, that athleticism will translate to the field.”

The only team to beat BA last season in regular season district play was Oak Forest Academy. Brown says he sees OFA as one of the contenders coming into this year.

“We only have two teams that get into the playoffs out of five and Oak Forest got squeezed out last year, but they bring everyone back and have a new coach,” said Brown. “We’ve also added Parklane to our district, and they’re always going to have really high participation numbers and a big crop of athletes to pick from.”

Other district competition for the Cougars includes Cathedral School and Adams County Christian School, both of Natchez.

Back to assist Brown again is Brandon Dickerson. As the team has been going through summer workouts, Dickerson keeps up with a timer that lets his head coach know when a water break is needed, usually every 15 minutes.

“I don’t know how I’d be able to do it without Coach Dickerson,” said Brown. “He’s got a great mind for the game. The girls all respect him and listen to him. And he’s been one of my best friends since we were kids.”

BA has a schedule that packs matches in for a busy rush of competition through August and September that then leads up to the postseason beginning in early October. The plan is for BA to again be contending with the final eight teams in its classification when the playoffs begin.

“Some really good teams get left out with only eight schools in our class making the playoffs each year,” said Brown. “So, you’re excited to make it that far, but I know our girls want to go farther this year and our season will be a journey to get to that point and hopefully improve on the results we’ve had recently.”