SIKESTON -- This spring, Sikeston High School will offer a girls soccer program for the first time.
The team will be coached by Derrick Long, who has made notable strides in the past few years with the boys soccer team.
"We're starting to get the boys soccer on the right track, and there are not many girls programs in the spring," explained Long. "I went to talk to the superintendent and some other people on the school board, and we just decided to go with it."
Sikeston's first match of the season will be April 4, hosting Notre Dame. The Lady Bulldogs have 36 girls on the team.
"I was happy to see that many come out," said Long. "It gives about 18 on jayvee and 18 on varsity. That's a good, round number to have."
Sikeston is joining in on a sport that is growing every year. Currently every boys team Sikeston plays, with the exception of Kennett, also has a girls team. And Kennett, Fredericktown and Meadow Heights are expected to field teams next year. In their inaugural season, the Lady Bulldogs may struggle up against traditional state powers like Cape Central, Perryville, St. Vincent and Notre Dame.
"It's going to be tough competition going in," said Long. "A lot of the girls on those teams have been playing their whole lives, and we're just starting to learn the game. A lot of these girls haven't played soccer before, or haven't played in a long time. We're learning the basics right now. We've got a good month here before our first game, so hopefully we can learn it all before then."
While the program may struggle early, the future does look bright down in the lower grades.
"There is a good group of fourth and fifth and sixth grade girls that are playing year-around now," noted Long. "It's just a few years off, we'll get it going. We have 36 girls, and that's a good foundation to start with."
Several standout athletes from other sports like Elizabeth Killion, Heather Hester, Thu Nguyen and Flemming Silverthorn are on the roster.
"There are some good athletes on this team," said Long. "We've got some girls off the tennis team, some off the volleyball team and some that ran track last year. Those girls have played other sports and know the system and everything. That's a good start."
The Lady Bulldogs will play a full 12-match varsity season. They will be in the Notre Dame district.
"Of course we want to win it all," said Long. "I would say that if it was our first year or 10th year. I won't be happy unless we win districts. Realistically, I just hope (the team) learns the game and plays competitive."
Adding a varsity girls team is just another step towards improving on Sikeston soccer as a whole.
"In the last few years, we started building the soccer program up here," said Long. "Even the youth program is starting to get better. More kids are playing in the fall and in the YMCA spring league. More kids are starting to play in the indoor league. It's just going to keep getting bigger and better."