Hill top contributor in Cougar tennis, soccerBy ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
Newton County’s Joel Hill is a different kind of two-sport standout.
While most high school kids are concentrating on the major sports, Hill has made a name for himself in the school’s “minor” sports.
Hill was recently selected to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Soccer game, which selects players from all classes. As a matter of fact, Hill is just one of three players selected from a county school system. And he’s just the third player from Newton County to be selected to play in the all-star soccer game.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Newton County soccer coach Chad Bond said. “You are being picked from all of the kids from Class 1A to 6A. The Coast, Jackson and Tupelo kids usually dominate that so for a kid from Newton County to get picked, especially when we have been down, is a big honor.”
For Hill, the selection is the culmination of years of hard work that started when he was “3 or 4 years old.”
“I started when I was 3 or 4 years old in the little league in Forest,” Hill said. “I can vaguely remember it. But since that time, I have always played some serious soccer. It has always been my favorite sport. I just love being out on the field and having the ball at my feet.”
Bond said Hill is the unquestioned leader of the team.
“He is a very, very good soccer player,” Bond said. “He’s very steady. He has a very high skill level. You can tell he has played soccer all of his life. He has a lot of confidence on the soccer field. You can just tell, he’s a difference maker for us. He’s that player that you want the ball at his feet. He’s the unquestioned leader of the team. He’s the go-to guy that they all look to.”
As a youngster, Hill also played tournament baseball and was on the junior high baseball team at Newton County.
But then his father, former East Central softball coach Scott Hill, introduced Joel to tennis, which still allowed him to play weekend soccer tournaments in Jackson.
“His dad grew up playing tennis so he already knew about the sport,” Bond said. “I think he sort of looked at it and figured out it was hard to play select soccer in the spring and play baseball. In tennis, I have told those kids that I would work with them so they could do both and it has allowed us to get some of the better athletes in tennis. Fortunately for us, he decided to play tennis and has worked really hard at it. I think he’s happy with the decision and ha been instrumental in how we have done the last couple of years. It was a great day for our tennis program when he decided to come out and play.”
Indeed, Hill and his parter, Ethan McMullan captured the Class 4A state boys doubles championship as they defeated teammates Dylan Barnett and Zack McMullan last season, just days after helping guide Newton County to its first-ever team state championship in tennis.
For Bond, who founded the tennis program at Newton County, it’s a tough call on which sport Hill is better at.
“I think he is strong in both of them,” Bond said. “He has played soccer longer and has acquired a lot of experience at a high level. But he has closed the gap in tennis. I didn’t get to see him play soccer until this year but seeing him around school, you knew he was Mr. Soccer. He as been very impressive on the soccer field and brings a lot of confidence. Being a senior, he just has the presence about him. I am hoping he will bring that to the tennis courts this year.”
Hill said he has tried to step up and be a team leader and hopes it’s helping his teammates.
“I have tried to make a point of it, to be more of a leader,” Hill said. “We haven’t had a lot of success and I didn’t want to finish my senior year off on that note. I have done everything I could to lead my teammates in the right direction. I’ve tried to pass on some of the things that I have learned since I have a little more experience. Hopefully, it’s helping.”
Hill said he recently committed to play soccer at East Central Community College and is exploring the possibility of playing tennis at the school as well.