By Robert Wilson
Phillip Buffington became one of the best high school soccer players in Mississippi history when he played at Jackson Prep in the mid-2000s.
Now, Buffington is becoming one of the top high school soccer coaches in Mississippi.
He has led Jackson Academy to three consecutive MAIS Division I championships – two boys and one girls – over the past two seasons.
Buffington took the first step to his fourth straight state title Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over Starkville Academy in the girls’ season opener at Raider Field at JA.
Senior Addison Comer, sophomores Aubrey Edmonson, Anderson Ueltschey and Logan Burger and Brandon High transfer and freshman Izzy Scott scored one goal each Tuesday night.
After losing only one starter (Lani Roberts) from last year’s team, which finished 17-4-1, the JA girls are the favorite to win its second consecutive state championship.
Forwards Comer and Harkins Simpson, midfielder DeDe Miller, defenders Mylee Maurer, Anna Adkins and Madi Brewer and goalkeeper Addi Roberts started most of the games last season. Buffington has seven more players who played significant time last season and are expected to do the same this year.
He also has three transfers and who was at JA who didn’t play last season who are expected to contribute to this year’s team. Scott and Natalie Reedy are freshmen from Brandon High and junior Macy Messer – daughter of new JA associate head of school for student life Jimmy Messer – is a transfer from Brookstone School in Columbus, Ga. Junior Ava Antonaros was at JA, but didn’t play soccer last season.
“It was definitely good to get out there for the first game and get some of the nervousness out,” Buffington said. “I thought overall the girls played pretty well, especially in the first half. I feel we have a very deep group of players who can call step in the game and maintain the high level of expectations we hold for our players. This is a great group to coach and me and new assistant Brandon Richardson are looking forward to a very competitive year again in the MAIS.”
Buffington defeated his former coach at Prep – Jon Marcus Duncan – to win last year’s MAIS Division 3 state title and stop Prep’s two-year reign as state champion. Then eighth-grader Caroline Weir came off the bench in overtime and scored a game with 3 minutes to play in the second, 10-minute overtime period to give JA a 1-0 victory at Prep, JA’s 11th shutout of the season.
Buffington and JA had defeated Prep and Duncan 6-2 to win the MAIS boys title in February of 2021. This past February, Buffington led the boys to their second title and defeated Hartfield Academy in the championship game.
Buffington, who was an assistant for three years before taking over for Gardner four years ago, is considered one of the top boys players in Mississippi history. He set a Mississippi record with 61 goals his senior season for Prep in 2005. He led the Patriots to four straight state titles and was an eighth grader in Duncan’s first year at Prep. Buffington played one year at Marshall University then three years at Mississippi College. He played three years of pro soccer, two in the United States and one in Australia. He has been coaching club soccer with the Mississippi Fire, now Mississippi Rush, since 2012 and was head coach at Manchester Academy in Yazoo City from 2013-2016 before coming to JA in the fall of 2016.
JA goes for win number two this season Thursday at Madison St. Joseph. The Lady Raiders play host to Collierville, Tenn., High Friday at Prep.