One pastime soccer players engage in during their down time is called the Crossbar Challenge.
The objective is as simple as the name suggests: A player boots the ball from varying lengths, and attempts to hit that narrow crossbar over the net. Not so easy to do.
For a good portion of the first half of Waco High’s soccer match with District 18-5A rival Temple, it looked as though that lively free-time competition had spilled over to the field. The Lions had four shots carom off that unforgiving roof before eventually breaking through in a 2-0 victory over the Wildcats.
“We do (the Crossbar Challenge) a lot for competition,” Waco High coach Kris Kahler said. “I didn’t know it was going to translate into the game. Four off the crossbar in the first half, that does not happen every game.”
The Lions, off to a school-record 13-0 start and a 3-0 mark in district play, didn’t allow those slim misses to avert their aggression or create any kind of a mental block. Their perseverance paved the way to victory, as senior midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez eventually broke through with a pair of goals, one in the first half and another following intermission.
“In the beginning we got very unlucky, but it happens to everybody,” Gonzalez said. “We just kept our cool. We knew more chances were going to come, and we tried to execute them as much as we could.”
Indeed, the Lions possessed the ball with pretty passing and remained the aggressors throughout. Sure, they bonked their heads a few times – those four crossbar shots all came within the first 25 minutes – but Temple (4-7-1, 1-2-1) couldn’t hold them at bay forever.
With 10:43 left in the opening half, Gonzalez ripped a corner kick and put a wicked bend on the ball. It ricocheted off of a Temple defender and bounced into the net to break the scoreless tie.
“The kids played hard,” Kahler said. “Sometimes you have good nights and sometimes you have off nights, and it’s really nice when you have an off night and you can still win.”
The Lions continued to control the ball with zig-zagging, defense-befuddling passes in the second half. At the 20:55 mark, they found the net again, as Gonzalez corralled the ball from about 20 yards and zipped it to the left of the outstretched reach of the Temple keeper.
Waco High’s unblemished run has been marked by wins over an assortment of Class 6A foes, including Belton, Killeen, Midway and Copperas Cove. But the genesis of the journey dates back to the offseason, when the players willingly pushed their bodies to the brink in hope of a payoff down the road.
“Nobody wants to go to practice, but everybody wants to win on the field,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to do hard work on the side, and it’ll really show when it matters.”
Gonzalez smiled when asked how far the Lions were capable of riding this momentum, saying that people would have to “wait and see.”
As for Kahler, he’s just getting a kick out of coaching them.
“We’ve had a lot of really good teams come through Waco High. Our tradition is not as rich as some of the other programs in the Central Texas area,” the coach said. “This is all new to us, and we like it. This soccer team, across the board, freshman, JV, varsity, they’re just fun to coach. They listen, they work hard, they possess the ball. These kids had a really rough offseason, a very strenuous offseason. It’s kind of translating to the win and loss column.”