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Oxford girls soccer replacing top-heavy talent with best depth in years

One does not simply replace Morgan O’Connor, relayed Oxford girls soccer head coach Hunter Crane, overlooking a group of more than 20 girls on a practice field last week.

O’Connor left Oxford High School a year early to enroll at Ole Miss. A two-time Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year and 2019 Allstate All-American, she was, by the numbers, the best player in the history of Chargers soccer.

For Oxford in the upcoming 2019-20 season, it’s going to be a replacement by committee.

“We’re not as top heavy, but we’re very deep,” Crane said. “Looking at it the other day, we don’t have a Morgan O’Connor, but we have 18 or 19 players that we feel really confident putting on the field. And that’s way more than we’ve had in the past. Even compared to those years when we went to state championships, we’re deeper now than we were then. That’s exciting.”

In fairness, O’Connor is far from the only talent the Chargers lost. Oxford graduated five seniors last year, three of whom are now playing college soccer. And it’s not to say this team isn’t talented itself, it’s just going to be different.

Kathleen Myers, now a senior, is committed to play D1 soccer at Southeastern Louisiana. Karissa Strum and Grace Freeman, now a junior and sophomore respectively, are two of the best returning midfielders in the state. All three have played serious minutes for Oxford since they were freshmen. Now, the three will be asked to play a more attack-heavy role.

“We’re going to switch things around a bit, particularly with those three, to try and create them more opportunities around the goal. That’s to try and replace the goal production we lost out of (O’Connor),” Crane said. “So we’re going to ask some girls to play some center midfield spots that haven’t played a lot for us and are pretty young.”

Those replacement midfield duties are mostly going to fall on the shoulders of Ivy Dennis and Ruthie Jenkins. Dennis appeared in nine of 21 games a year ago, Jenkins in four.

Defensively, the team will be replacing three of four along the backline. Thankfully, the one returning is Maria Jones, arguably the team’s best defender from a year ago who is committed to play at ICC after her senior year.

For a team that’s been so stable for years, the challenge of this newfound depth for a coaching staff is simple: how to use it and who works best together. High school soccer isn’t the pros – coaches can make as many substitutions as they want.

The message coming into the year? Take every game like it’s the playoffs. Because, as the team learned in last year’s 4-2 playoff exit against Northwest Rankin, it can end at any minute.

“Seriously, 6A is a battle every time you step on the field. You have to show up every night. We were 18-2-1 last year and we really felt like we let it slip away,” Crane said. “We showed up all season long and then the last one, we let it get away from us. That one day, we didn’t show up. And that ends your season. So the margin for error is very small.”

Oxford opens their season on Nov. 5 at home against Grenada.