Kick up your heels, boys and girls.

For a number of Central Texas soccer teams, the best time of year has arrived. Spring has sprung, and with it comes the promise of playoff action. After months of toiling away in cold, wet weather that only a penguin would love, the clouds have broken, temperatures have warmed and the matches suddenly mean more than ever.

To these players, there is no season like the postseason.

“This is what we talk about all year,” University coach Mike Chapman said. “Obviously there’s pressure, because you could go one-and-done, but the enthusiasm is off the charts. This is the fun time of year, because you get to travel and every game really means something.”

The UIL playoffs will commence Thursday, and teams will battle for the next three weeks to try to reach the state tournament April 15-18 in Georgetown.

And suddenly schools in Class 4A (formerly 3A before this year) envision a more open road to reaching that state stage. For the first time, the UIL will award state championships in three classifications (4A through 6A) after years of handing out only two such trophies.

“We were at our district meeting the other day, and the feeling there was unbelievable,” La Vega boys coach Paul De Leon said. “We’re playing meaningful games in March. Gatesville won our district and we finished second, and it was the first time we’d had a chance to play for first or second in my 10 years here. Now, all of the sudden, it’s not just about getting into the playoffs, but getting to the next round and maybe putting a run together.”

De Leon’s team won nine of its final 11 games to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth time in six years. The Pirates (11-7-2) will meet Jasper in the Class 4A bi-district round at 5:30 p.m. Friday at A&M Consolidated in College Station.

China Spring’s boys face a sturdy climb right off the bat in the postseason. The Cougars will face No. 1-ranked Palestine at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at La Vega, as the second half of a doubleheader. The Lorena and Palestine girls will kick things off at 5:30.

Waco High’s boys made history this season by claiming its first district championship in school history. The Lions will open up against Bryan Rudder in the 5A bi-district round Friday in Bryan, while their crosstown rival University (16-3-4) draws Huntsville in its playoff opener in Palestine.

University’s Chapman said the challenge of forging through District 17-5A was the perfect tune-up for the playoff road ahead.

“Being in this district definitely helped us get ready for the playoffs,” Chapman said. “We’ve got one of the toughest districts in our region, if not the entire state.”

Midway’s boys, which finished third in District 12-6A, and their sturdy goalkeeper Zach Hammond will look to vanquish North Garland in their playoff opener Friday at Midlothian. Should the Panthers survive, they’ll face the winner of Dallas Skyline and Richardson Pearce in next week’s area round.

On the girls’ side, Bill Sharp’s Midway team (17-1) powered through a rugged District 12-6A to seize another district title. The Pantherettes won 11 of their 12 district matches, losing only to rival Belton, 2-1, in the teams’ second meeting.

Throughout his tenure at Midway, Sharp has had a number of players who have started on the varsity all four years, and this year’s group has especially benefited from that type of veteran know-how. Senior defender Bailey Johnston and midfielder Josey Meyer are the co-captains, while Marisol Reyes and Maddie Owen are also experienced starters.

“It definitely helps from a coaching standpoint, having kids who can let the others know what is expected,” Sharp said.

Midway will open up against Tyler Lee at 6 p.m. Friday in Ennis. “They’re the fourth seed, but from a very good district,” Sharp said. “We’ll have our work cut out. … This is the time of year where you’ve just got to lay it all on the line, leave it all out there.”

Waco High’s girls get the benefit of playing at home for their playoff debut. The Lady Lions (19-5-1) will host Bryan at 5 p.m. Friday at Waco ISD Stadium.

Perennial playoff contender Robinson will play Lufkin Hudson Friday in College Station, as the second match in a doubleheader with De Leon’s La Vega boys and Jasper.

Scott, Spooner set to sign with colleges

A pair of Reicher athletes will finalize their college decisions Thursday.

Allen Scott will sign with McMurry University in Abilene for football, while volleyball player Mikaela Spooner will sign with Mary-Hardin Baylor. Both will take part in a signing ceremony at 9:20 a.m. At Reicher.

A 5-9 running back and linebacker, Scott was an honorable-mention Super Centex selection last season. Spooner, meanwhile, excelled as a 5-9 setter for the Lady Cougars’ volleyball squad. She also plays select volleyball for the Austin Juniors team.

University celebrates 20 years of softball

It’s always important to remember your roots.

University softball coach Jamie Villarial knows that, and that’s why the Lady Trojans are tipping a cap to their history Friday. Prior to University’s softball game with Hutto at 7 p.m. Friday, the program will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1995 University team, which was the first to compete in softball after it was sanctioned by the UIL. Players and coaches from that team will be on hand to be recognized.

Area powerlifters flock to state meet

If there really is strength in numbers, Central Texas should flex its muscles at the Texas High School Powerlifting Association state meet.

The meet is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Taylor County Expo Center in Abilene, and the Centex area will be well-represented, with 26 total state qualifiers across six divisions.

Crawford’s Cody Villa is the No. 1-ranked lifter in the 123-pound weight class of 2A, with a season-best total of 1,085 pounds. He’ll be joined at state by Crawford teammate Uriel Rodriguez (114 pounds). Axtell will send three lifters to state: Devyn Hebbe, Tanner Coone and Dylan Haralson, the pre-tournament favorite at 148 pounds. Reicher’s Roy Ward, Marco Castro and Allen Scott also will compete in 2A, while Clifton’s Jordan Allen, Teague’s Ryan Mitchell and Hillsboro’s Eduardo Cruz made the 3A field.

In Class 4A, Robinson could push for a state team title, with five lifters in the running.

They are Michael Bartlett, Manuel Rodriguez, Juan Villa, Ricky Thompson and Gustavo Bonilla. Mexia’s Quavious Gamble, who has amassed a season-best total of 1,595 pounds, is ranked second in the 242-pound class in 4A, while La Vega’s Byron Bryant and Jordan Rivera, China Spring’s Taylor Hull and Connally’s Marques Robinson will make their own quests for state titles.

At the Class 6A level, Midway’s Korey Chatman and Ryan Dean reached state, as did Belton’s Braden Martinez. Meanwhile, in Class 5A, Waco High’s Derrick Moore qualified at 242 pounds, and Temple’s Malik Stoutamire made the cut at 165 pounds.

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