By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – South Effingham midfielder J.P. Alonso was fouled in the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick during a recent intrasquad soccer scrimmage. Then he heard a challenge from his coach.
“If you miss this, we’re all running first thing at the retreat tomorrow,” yelled Mustangs coach DaKota Paradice, slightly joking from the sidelines.
Joking or not, Alonso drilled the free kick into the back of the net easily.
When the scrimmage ended, Alonso helped an injured teammate to the locker room.
“Hopefully, I can leave a lasting impression on these young players so they can carry on,” the 5-foot-5 senior said. “I’ll do whatever the coach needs me to do.”
Alonso and the Mustangs kick off their soccer season this week with a scrimmage at West Laurens on Friday before beginning the season for real Monday (Feb. 5) at Southeast Bulloch.
Effingham County also opens play with a scrimmage Friday at Camden County. The Rebels then host Richmond Hill for their season-opener on Tuesday (Feb. 6).
After finishing with a school-record 14 victories last season (advancing to the second round of the state playoffs) and 13 wins during the 2022 and 2021 campaigns, South’s soccer program has become one of the area’s best.
Alonso has been with Paradice all three years. He was the only underclassman named a team captain a year ago and started every game.
“J.P. has been one of the players we’ve counted on,” Paradice said. “He’s an intelligent player and has great ball skills. In our win against Glynn Academy, he was a big part of our strategy.”
A year ago, South lost its first meeting with perennial power Glynn 3-0, but positioned Alonso to help defensively during the Mustangs’ 2-1 overtime victory in the rematch to give the Red Terrors their first loss of the season. It was SEHS’ first win over Glynn since 2015.
The Mustangs also recorded signature wins over Benedictine (a Class 4A state semifinalist) and Richmond Hill (a Class 7A state quarterfinalist).
Alonso had a shining individual moment against rival Effingham County when he sprinted to the goal and was in perfect position to score on a header during the final seconds of the first half, providing the team’s 1-0 margin of victory.
Alonso sees the team’s strengths a little differently this season. A year ago, SEHS relied on defense. But this year, the Mustangs could be more offensive-minded led by finishers Cole Hoffman, Edson Escobar and Desmond Prince … with Alonso joining the attack from the midfield.
“We’re going to score a lot of goals this year,” Alonso said, after his side netted seven goals in the scrimmage. “Hopefully, we can blend as one unit, get better game by game, and be as successful as in the past.”
Paradice said Alonso will have a lot on the line individually as well. The International Soccer Academy Leeds Beckett in England has shown interest. Last spring, the academy wooed Mustangs goalie Chase Hoffman and midfielder Grady Smith across the Atlantic.
“I want to see how far I can take my career,” Alonso said. “It’s a dream to play professional soccer. England is a great opportunity to learn more with great coaches and players and take my skills as far as I can.”