Speed Cats: SSHS needs to use speed against bigger Sherman

Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

March 17, 2004 -- When the Sulphur Springs Wildcats meet up with Sherman in today's bi-district soccer playoffs, they will need to take advantage of their self-proclaimed "little, fast dudes" to beat the bigger Bearcats.

Two of those would be center stage if they weren't playing on the outside.

Seniors Jim Grand-Lienard and Blake Birchfield play the outside midfielder positions, right and left respectively, and they have the speed, quickness and skill that coach Andy Holt is looking for in pushing the ball ahead of the Bearcats.

"We have to use our speed on them," said Birchfield, a two-year All-District kicker on the football team as well as a four-year soccer letterman. "We have a lot of little, fast dudes who are quick. We've got to beat them up and down the field and wear them out."

That's where Birchfield and Grand-Lienard come in.

Grand-Lienard's biggest asset is his speed, and he takes advantage of it by the style he plays.

"He's fast and he can run up and down the line. He's good at that and sending crosses in," said Coach Holt. "He's a senior this year who lays it on the line every game. You can tell he goes hard the whole game in every game we play.

"Jim is a two-year letterman. He came in a lot at outside right midfielder for us last year. I played him a little bit at forward, but what he's best at is outside right mid."

That's because he can make his runs down the sidelines, playing the ball across to his teammates.

"Speed is my best quality," Grand-Lienard admits. "I try to beat people down the lines. I make my runs down the line and get people to play the ball to me. I get up there in front of them and try to send the ball across."

His younger sister, Gayle Grand-Lienard, is a freshman forward on the Lady Cats' team which is also playoff bound.

On the other side of the field is Birchfield, whose left foot scored 62 points in football has put 12 goals in the back of the net for the soccer team. His football coaches say Birchfield never got rattled in a game, and Holt has seen the same demeanor in soccer.

"He has a lot of experience and a lot of leadership," Holt explained. "He has a steadiness about him. He shows up every game and he plays hard every game. He doesn't get too high or too low. He has a steadiness about himself and about the way he plays.

"He's a guy you want on your team. He's unselfish and he loves to compete and loves to play. Birch does a lot for our program and for our team."

Holt is hoping the pair will help the Wildcats get past not only the first round of district, but to go as deep in the playoffs as their talent and desire will take them.

He believes that the Wildcats' soccer knowledge is better than most teams they play. Grand-Lienard has been playing soccer since he was four, growing up in Rockwall until the family moved to Sulphur Springs midway through his freshman year.

Birchfield, also, is a longtime soccer player. He's been to the playoffs in both football and soccer for SSHS.

"We can't get a big head and think we can beat anybody easily," he cautioned about the playoffs. "We have to stay focused.

"I think we've got more skill than Sherman does, but they have more height and they're not going to just give up."

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