There isn’t a whole lot Paul Richards knows about the Cairo Syrupmakers. He knows they’re unbeaten (11-0-1) and they’re the No. 1 seed out of Region 1-AAA. He also knows it’s a long way from South Effingham High School to Cairo, which is about just north of Tallahassee, Fla.
“I know it’s a long way away,” said the Mustangs soccer coach.
The Mustangs (7-9) open the Class AAA state playoffs today against the Syrupmakers, who have outscored their opponents 63-5.
“We’re a 4 (seed) going to a 1 (seed),” Richards said. “We’re a young team; we’ve got nothing to lose.
“I haven’t gone out of my way to tell them they’re undefeated. They know we’re a No. 4 and Cairo is a 1.”
Though the Mustangs set a goal before the season of reaching the state playoffs again, Richards doesn’t want his team to be satisfied with simply earning another postseason berth.
“We played a regular season of highly competitive soccer,” he said. “I’m not dismissing my team’s chances based on won-loss records. We have one thing to do, and that’s to play to the best of our abilities.”
There have been plenty of small lessons, tactically and strategically, for Richards’ young charges to absorb. There also are some mental tests for them to handle.
“We’ve also learned playing your best can help you beat a team that is, on paper, better than you,” he said.
The Mustangs broke up what was scheduled to be a two-week layoff between their loss to Benedictine and the opening of the state playoffs with a hastily-scheduled match with Statesboro. The Blue Devils beat the Mustangs 2-0, but Richards believes his team is better for the experience.
“The opportunity to play somebody good was important,” he said.
The veteran coach is heartened by how the Mustangs, with six freshmen in the lineup, stunned Thomson 3-2 in the first round of the region playoffs earlier this month. His young team really isn’t that young anymore, in his mind.
“We’ve been through a whole season,” he said. “We’re a young team that has had some experience. We’ve had our share of learning experiences.”