Last updated: April 30. 2014 2:03AM - 621 Views
By Kevin Eckleberry keckleberry@civitasmedia.com



Senior Kyle Jenkins leads the Callaway Cavaliers with 22 goals.Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
Senior Kyle Jenkins leads the Callaway Cavaliers with 22 goals.Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
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For four years, they’ve played side-by-side on the Callaway High soccer team.


They’ve helped the program continue to grow and progess, leading up to a terrific 2014 season that resulted in a tie for the Region 4-AAA championship.


On Thursday, Eric Mullis, Tyler Neese and Kyle Jenkins will share the field once again when Callaway hosts Jackson in the opening round of the state tournament.


Those players have accomplished so much during their time on the team, but the one thing they haven’t done is win a state-tournament game, and they’ll try to rectify that Thursday evening.


“It’d be huge of course. We’ve never done it,” Mullis said of winning a state game. “We’re obviously looking for more than just that. That’s the first step we have to take. We’ll be ready to play.”


There are 10 seniors on the team, but only three of them have been together for four years.


As the years have gone by, more players have joined the team, first under coach Matt Leonard, and then under Jake Hembree, who took over the program before the 2012 season.


“Coach Hembree has done a great job over the past two years as a head coach, just recruiting younger people who never played, and turning them into good players,” Jenkins said. ” The same with coach Leonard with the girls.”


Neese, who along with Jenkins began playing junior-varsity soccer as an eighth-grader, said his time at Callaway has “gone by really quick.”


Neese said there have been a lot of great memories, beginning with his freshman season when he got to play alongside his brother, Park Neese.


The Cavaliers had a successful season that was highlighted by a win over LaGrange.


“I got to play with (Park Neese) when I was in the ninth grade, and we played LaGrange twice that year, and we beat them the second time,” Neese said. “That was a big accomplishment.”


This season, Neese and his teammates got another milestone victory when they beat Troup.


“We’d never beaten Troup before this year, and we beat them,” Neese said. “We got close last year, but this year we got ‘em 4-0, so that was really nice my senior year.”


Jenkins, who leads the team with 22 goals, is proud of what he and the other seniors have accomplished, but he said no one is satisfied.


A year ago, the Cavaliers were also at home for a first-round game, but they were thumped by Pierce County.


“As a senior, it would be fantastic, just going out with at least one playoff win,” Jenkins said. “But we’re looking for the state championship. We just want to get that first one under our belt.”


Mullis said the success this team has enjoyed isn’t a coincidence.


He believes the hard work the players put in during the offseason has paid major dividends this spring.


“It was a lot of offseason work, just working on your own, showing committment,” Mullis said. “It’s made a big difference.”


It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for the Cavaliers.


They lost their region opener to Central-Carroll 3-0, but Jenkins said no one let that loss get them down.


“Things didn’t go our way. It was a bad night,” Jenkins said of the Central loss. “We moved on, and we took second place.”


It has been a successful season in terms of wins and losses, and Neese said it also been an enjoyable year because of how close-knit the players are.


“It’s a fun team. We get along. It’s like a big old family,” Neese said. “That’s one thing I love about this team.”


 
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