When the UIL added a third classification for soccer two years ago, it was a move applauded by medium-sized schools all over the state. In Central Texas, it has made an impact, like a 40-yard rocket past the keeper.
Take a school like Gatesville, for example. The Class 4A Hornets last year won a school-record 19 games, captured the program’s first district championship and fashioned a three-game run in the playoffs.
“It’s been great. It gives you hope,” said Gatesville boys’ soccer coach Van Collins. “You’re not thinking, ‘Hey, we can make the playoffs,’ and then when you get there you’re losing to University or Waco High in the first round. District isn’t the end of the road, anymore. We feel like it’s been great for soccer, period, and it’s certainly been really good for us.”
The UIL will open its 2016 soccer season Thursday and Gatesville is among a plethora of area programs that enter the campaign with dreams of deep postseason runs. The Hornets are ranked fourth in Class 4A’s Region III in the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches’ preseason poll, although Collins doesn’t put too much stock in those rankings.
“They don’t have a clue,” Collins said. “Soccer is less publicized than football and basketball and some other sports. They probably don’t even know we graduated eight seniors. It’s something you look at and say, ‘That’s cool,’ and then you move on.”
Gatesville will benefit from the return of senior forward Ernesto Hernandez, the reigning district and Super Centex Player of the Year.
Hernandez topped Central Texas with 36 goals last year. Here’s a mildly frightening prospect for opposing defenses: He may have to carry even more of Gatesville’s scoring load in 2016.
“His role isn’t going to change, but he may have to take some more on his shoulders,” Collins said. “He’s doing the same stuff he’s always been doing, it’s just that the supporting cast is different.”
On the boys’ side of things, Robinson (No. 7) and Mexia (No. 8) also are ranked in TASCO’s regional preseason poll.
China Spring should be sturdy defensively with Kameron Coe in goal, as Coe is coming off a season in which he registered 152 saves and recorded five shutouts.
In Class 5A, Mike Chapman’s University team perpetually fields one of the area’s fiercest squads, and opens the season ranked by TASCO as the No. 7 team in Class 5A’s Region III. But Waco High actually enters the season as the defending district champion for the first time.
Returning strong talent includes Super Centex defender Alexis Arranaga and reigning District 17-5A MVP Jorge Cerrillo.
For area girls’ teams, Midway has long been Central Texas’ gold standard. The Pantherettes are poised to make a furious charge at another district title after dropping only two matches in 2015.
They bring back both the district MVP in midfielder Audrey Johnston and the top newcomer in goalkeeper Bailee Russell, who allowed just five goals all season.
In Class 4A, Lorena made a surprise run in the playoffs last year with victories over Palestine and Silsbee, and will look to build on that.
Robinson and Gatesville also return playoff-tested teams, although the Rockettes will have to find a way to replace the production of 2015 Super Centex Player of the Year Kennedy Miller, who scored an area-record 48 goals in 2015.
La Vega football parade planned
To the victors go the spoils and La Vega High School’s football team deserves a little spoiling.
La Vega finished off a perfect 16-0 season with a 33-31 decision against Argyle in the Class 4A Division I state final Dec. 18, capturing the first football state title in school history.
Now the Pirates will be feted with a parade through the city of Bellmead starting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 21.
La Vega ISD also plans a banquet to honor the state champs.
Pirates coach Willie Williams said the date and location for that event is still up in the air, with ticket demand being intense.
Basketball StatsPlus to arrive Tuesday
The Tribune-Herald will begin its high school basketball StatsPlus package in Tuesday’s edition.
Central Texas boys’ and girls’ coaches are asked to submit their statistical leaders, team scores and district standings to Brice Cherry at email@example.com.
Submissions can also be faxed to 254-756-7803. The deadline for publication is each Monday by noon.
CENTEX PLAYERS TO WATCH
|F||Ernesto Hernandez||Sr||Gatesville||36 goals|
|F||Juan Arroyo||Jr||Waco High||14 goals|
|F||Chris Rivera||Sr||University||9 goals|
|MF||Ben Matthews||Sr||Midway||12 assists|
|D||Alexis Arranaga||Sr||Waco High||Def. MVP|
|GK||Kameron Coe||Sr||C. Spring||152 saves|
|F||Kayley Ables||So||Waco High||29 goals|
|MF||Audrey Johnston||Sr||Midway||24 goals|
|MF||Bailey Freedman||Sr||C. Spring||14 goals|
|GK||Bailee Russell||So||Midway||15 shutouts|