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MCC opens National Tournament play

By By Jeff Byrd/The Meridian Star
Nov. 15, 2001
TYLER, Texas The Eagles have landed back at Tyler Junior College and are ready to bring home a second consecutive NJCAA National's Men's Soccer Championship back to Meridian.
But for Meridian Community College to do just that, it must conquer another challenging eight-team field at the National Championships. Meridian, 17-2-2, and champions of the Mid-Southwest District, will take on Johnson County, Kan., today at 4 p.m.in a national quarterfinal game here at Tyler Junior College.
The other quarterfinals pit teams all ranked in the top eight in the final National Junior College Men's soccer poll. Top-ranked and unbeaten Yavapai, Arz., takes on Schoolcraft College, Mich., at 2 p.m.
The first game at noon pits second-ranked Mercer College, N.J., against the College of Dupage, Ill. The final quarterfinal matches third-ranked Bryant &Stratton Business Institute (N.Y.) against eighth ranked Louisburg College, N.C.
It was Bryant &Stratton who Meridian beat 2-0 in last year's national championship game in Tyler. If Meridian beats Johnson County today, it would face the Bryant &Stratton-Louisburg College winner on Friday at 6 p.m. in the national semi-finals.
The other two were in Trenton, N.J., home of Mercer County.
Both Johnson County and Louisburg are making their first appearances at the nationals, according to Clements. Mercer County and Yavapai are regulars at the nationals, having claimed eight national titles between them.
Johnson County (17-3-3) made it to the nationals by beating Barton County, Kan., 4-3 in an overtime shootout. They beat East Central, Mo., 3-0, to win the district title.
Meridian will counter with a team that starts nine freshmen. The Eagles beat Northern Oklahoma 1-0 and San Jacinto, Texas 3-0 to claim the Mid-Southwest District Championship last weekend in Houston.
Before that, they claimed their eighth consecutive Region 23 title under Clements with a 7-1 romp over Hinds CC in Raymond back on Nov. 3.
Clements has prepared his young team for a return trip to the nationals by playing a rugged schedule. This includes an earlier trip to Tyler which saw the Eagles go 0-1-2. Meridian lost to Pima County, Arz., 2-1, a team that Yavapai beat this season.
The Eagles, though, have reeled off eight straight wins.
"The loss to Pima was the first time weve been beat on this field," Clements said of the early October trip. "We just didn't play very well that weekend. We had ties in the other two games with Cloud County and San Jacinto."
The Eagles, however, rebounded and the reason has been the on-the-job training.
"With nine freshmen starters, it took awhile for them to get together. It was just a matter of time for them to mature," Clements said.
The veteran coach says its difficult to point to one specific area that the Eagles excel in or have made the most improvement.
"It's the whole team. The defense, the attacking offense it's all been good. We just seem to go out and find a way to win," he said.
The Eagles have shown the ability to fit any style of play.
"We can adapt to the style our opponents play. We can play the long game or the defensive game.
"Weve got a team that has done everything it can do to prepare for this week. We now have three more games against a highly competitive field.
Jeff Byrd is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. He can be reachedat 693-1551 or by e-mail at jbyrd@themeridianstar.com.

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