Mulligan, Fajardo named Soccer Players of the YearBy CAMAL PETRO,
The Oak Grove boys and girls’ soccer teams matched each other throughout the season. When the Lady Warriors claimed the Region Title, so did the boys' team. When the girls advanced to the 6A South State Championship, the Warriors soon followed.
Both squads had talent all over the field, but senior Lonnie Mulligan and sophomore Elean Fajardo were important figures on the pitch for each team. With their accomplishments this season, Mulligan and Fajardo were named the PineBeltSPORTS Players of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
Mulligan, who signed with Ole Miss in February, came just shy of an individual goal – breaking the school record for goals scored. She netted 39 goals and totaled 12 assists as a senior, landing second in second history. The record was set by Amelie Peterson with 43 goals during the 1999-00 season.
“I talked to my dad a lot about it, and the main thing was not to worry about (the record),” Mulligan said. “If I’m meant to get it, it’ll happen. I think getting that many goals, I’m second highest so that’s a huge accomplishment. As long as we were winning games, that’s what was more important. The record was second to that.”
Mulligan has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old and traveled across the country to get her name out there in recruiting. Along with playing on Oak Grove’s team, she also plays on two other travel teams based in Birmingham and Hattiesburg.
Her Select coaches, William Carey women’s coach Danny Owens and Ryan Smith, helped with recruiting and got Ole Miss to attend a scrimmage. From there, the recruitment to Ole Miss picked up for Mulligan and she announced her commitment prior to this season.
“I love the school,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in that school anyway, but they’re so successful as a program. I wanted to be a little bit different from the players that where there. They’re very technically great, and I just wanted to go in somewhere that I wasn’t like everybody else so we can matchup well.”
In her high school career, she’s added 80 goals and 27 assists, but none of that would be possible with her teammates, she says. Mulligan was target No. 1 for opposing defenders to stop, and with the play of the rest of the Lady Warriors, it made it hard to stop her because of all the scoring threats around the field, too.
“It’s having great teammates that support me, no doubt,” Mulligan said. “I couldn’t have gotten that many goals without the keeper to everybody in the midfield. The defense and the midfield allowed me to be successful because they’re creative along with me. I definitely give all kudos to my team for helping me reach that goal and helping us do so well.
“Without everybody working together, we couldn’t have gotten as far as we did.”
The Lady Warriors finished the season 19-2-2.
For Fajardo, this season was expected. He knew the Warriors had the talent to make some noise and he knew he knew his own ability. Oak Grove posted a 16-4-3 overall record, a Region Title and it advanced to the 6A South State Championship, falling to the eventual 6A State Champions, Gulfport.
“Honestly, yeah, because we had a great team with plenty of players who can play,” Fajardo said when asked if he expected the team’s success. “I did expect (the individual success) because I really worked through it. After the George County loss (in last year’s playoffs), I was really upset after that loss. It just motivated me to keep going.”
He used the motivation from the loss in the offseason in hopes of helping his team to a State Championship. Fajardo led the team with 24 goals and 10 assists as a sophomore, and there were many learning curves along the way he had to overcome, too.
Opponents began marking Fajardo more, preventing him getting free over the top. He recorded two hat tricks during the first half of the season, then was held to one multi-goal game the rest of the way.
“They man-marked me and that was very hard for me in the beginning,” he said. “I had to work through it in practice. They man-marked me in practice, too, because coach was trying to get me used to it.”
The Honduras native will be an important piece for the next two seasons at Oak Grove, and he has big goals, too.
“I think we can go to the State Championship,” Fajardo said confidently. “We can compete against Brandon and Northwest Rankin, but we just have to play as a unit and play together. We’ll get some new players in and see how they are. Hopefully, we can win the State Championship next year. We have the weapons.”
Fajardo grew up in Honduras and played soccer with his bare feet in his backyard. He moved to Hattiesburg in 2008 and joined the Hattiesburg Futbol Club. He admitted he wasn’t very good at first.
“I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “I’ve had great coaches who’ve helped me improve mentally and physically. If you asked some of the kids I played with like (high school teammates) Adam Stone and Kyren Seymour, I was bad. I was the worst one.
“I was just motivated to improve and play better. I just kept improving and I set goals, and now I’m where I am.”