Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro boy’s soccer coach Paul Cook will lead his team into a second round Class AAAA playoff game today at Veterans High.
JONESBORO — Paul Cook knows his Jonesboro soccer team is largely an unknown in the state soccer playoffs, and that suits him just fine.
Yet every time the Cardinals step on the field, they gain a bit more respect.
Just ask Cairo.
After Jonesboro — a No.4 seed — defeated top-seeded Cairo 2-1 in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs, Cook said that even his coaching counterpart couldn’t help but take notice.
“After the Cairo game, their coach came up to us and basically said, ‘We’re a No. 1 seed and you guys are a No. 4 and you guys just came in here and whipped us,” Cook said. “We like flying under the radar. We like people asking, ‘Who is Jonesboro?’”
If nothing else, Cook said he wants people to answer that question by calling the Cardinals a defensive powerhouse.
The Syrupmakers scored their lone goal off a penalty kick after Jonesboro was called on a handball penalty in the box.
The rest of the game was such a team effort defensively that Cook struggled to single out any one star contributor.
Cook, in his last of seven years as the head soccer coach, said it’s been that way for his bunch all season.
“Our defense has really stepped it up this year, and boy, I tell you. It’s hard to pick out just one person who stands out,” he said. “One game it’s Manasseh, then Kevin or Ulysses. Paco Ortiz is one of our defensive captains that helps protect the whole box. It’s just a total team effort this year.”
To be sure, Jonesboro’s journey into the tournament’s second round isn’t brand new territory for Cook. He guided the Cardinals to the same place during his first season. That’s when Cook said they ran into the buzzsaw that was Thomas County Central.
“That was just a heck of a team,” he said. “We had some great players on that team and some players that went on to play in college, but we weren’t ready for what we saw that year.”
This year, Cook said he feels more prepared to face off against the Cardinals’ second round foe, Veterans. Cook said he’s scouted the Warhawks pretty extensively and sees some similarities between them and his own squad.
But the team Cook brings to this year’s second round and the one he fielded back in 2006 are quite different squads, he said.
And so is the coach.
“Back during that first year I tried to come in and be this hard-nosed, I-know-everything kind of guy,” he said. “But that’s only good in the games that you win. I’ve been in this second round position before as a coach, but I’ve learned a lot more since that time.”
Cook said he just knows that win or lose, his season and his coaching career will both be over soon.
He just doesn’t want it to be too soon.
“I don’t want this to stop,” he said. “I want to keep going. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can make it past Veterans. I’m looking forward to seeing how we might match up against a perennial power. One thing I stress with my kids is that we must love the game.
“If you’re out here and not loving it, we don’t need to be out here. No matter who we’re playing, we don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s just a game, we’re going to have fun. The best team’s going to win regardless. So why not have fun and play the way we’re going to play?”