BRYAN – For Kris Kahler, the most hurtful part about this soccer season ending will be not getting to watch this group play anymore.
But the Waco High coach doesn’t have to worry about that yet as the Lions (22-1-1) advanced to the school’s second-ever regional tournament with a 1-0 win over Magnolia West (17-6) Tuesday night in the 5A regional quarterfinal match at Merrill Green Stadium in Bryan, Texas.
“This has been an awesome ride, so let’s keep it going,” Kahler said. “This year I did more watching than coaching which I need to fix. It’s been a lot of fun.”
While Kahler has enjoyed watching his team all season, he wasn’t too pleased with how Waco High played the first few minutes in their contest Tuesday evening.
He knew they could play better. And they did.
Waco High seemed to cut off a multitude of Magnolia West’s passes, while the Lions kept up their attack on the offensive end.
“When your life is on the line, in terms of a soccer player your high school career, you start playing a little differently,” Kahler said. “I thought the last 25 to 30 minutes of the game I was extremely impressed with how we played wanting (the win). I thought every single second that ticked off they realized they were one step closer to packing their bags and going to Houston.”
And in the 20th minute, Waco High got on the board.
Kahler didn’t even know who scored. All he saw was the most important part – the ball hitting the back of the net.
But Nate Lopez saw the whole thing.
The Lions had a corner kick, and Lopez found a gap right in front of the net.
When the ball came his way, he put it just out of reach of the Mustang goalkeeper.
“It went in and I felt amazing,” Lopez said with a smile. “I was like, yes.”
It seemed that Magnolia West had tied the game up at one three minutes later as two Mustangs got over the topof the Waco High defense for the easy score.
But Magnolia West was ruled offside which meant the goal didn’t count.
The Mustangs had some more good looks at the goal in the second half, but the Lion defense continued to shut things down.
The Lions also had a handful of opportunities to add to their lead, but they just couldn’t finish.
Waco High had another opportunity to score off a penalty kick nearly 20 minutes into the second half but it ricocheted off the crossbar.
“We really had to hang in there because we couldn’t score,” Ildefonso Vazquez said. “We had to keep that 1-0 lead and make sure nothing went past us.”
That focus was the key in Waco High advancing to play in the regional semifinal at 4 p.m. Friday in Humble.
“They did whatever they could to go to the school’s second-ever regional tournament,” Kahler said. “They knew what the prize was. We talked about keeping our eyes on the prize. They did that.”
While Kahler has had fun watching this group play, the Lions have enjoyed playing on the field with each other.
And they get to play again – a realization that sunk in as their friends and family counted down the final 10 seconds from the stands.
“We just have really good talent. It’s always fun playing with my boys. The main key to going to the final is just being focused. Be ready,” Vazquez said as he shifted his weight up and down with a huge grin on his face. “I don’t know. I’m just so excited.”