Minus rolling a dozen recliners onto the field, it’s hard to imagine the University girls’ soccer team looking much more comfortable than it did Tuesday.
Playing on its own turf and showing the unflappable ease of a perpetual playoff veteran, University blanked a youthful Salado squad, 4-0, in the Class 4A bi-district playoffs at Waco ISD Stadium.
University (16-5), which made its deepest postseason run in school history last year with a trip to the regional quarterfinals, advances on to the area round to play the Brenham-Jacksonville winner later this week.
University coach Mike Chapman said the value of his team’s playoff experience can’t be measured.
“That’s huge. These girls have been there, they know what it’s like,” Chapman said. “Last year we lost the game before the regional tournament and our goal this year is that regional tournament. They know what it takes. They’ve felt the pain of getting beat and they know all too well what that is like. That’s huge, that experience.”
Throughout Tuesday’s match, the Lady Trojans shortened the field with crisp, precise passes on the run. They put that innate sense of teamwork on display on their first goal. At the 28:47 mark of the first half, University’s Natalie Gutierrez flicked a nifty pass around a Salado defender to her teammate Alexis Barragan, who powered a strong kick past sprawled-out Salado keeper Sam Isbell for the goal.
“It’s all part of the game,” University’s Kaitlyn Escobedo said of the team’s passing. “You’ve got to work together to get the ball in the goal. It’s not an individual thing.”
University continued to get plenty of shots on goal in the first half, but Isbell proved steady, catching everything else that came her way. At halftime, the Lady Trojans led 1-0, but it really felt as if the margin could have been bigger.
“That’s what we talked about at halftime,” Chapman said. “We were only up 1-0, but we controlled it and possessed it most of the game. We had a couple of opportunities the first half where we get the ball down the side, and we kick it and pass it right to the keeper rather than bringing it back for an opportunity.
“So at halftime we just talked about taking advantage of our opportunities and doing a better job of shooting outside.”
University’s players took those instructions to heart. The Lady Trojans were fluid with the ball even when surrounded by Salado defenders, and that calmness paid off late in the match, as University ripped the nets for three goals in the final 20 minutes.
The Lady Trojans made it 2-0 when Daniela Guerrero found a crease in the middle of the field, slid to her feet and punched the ball high up over Isbell’s fingertips for the score.
Four minutes later, Veronica Olvera made a perfectly placed lead pass in front of a sprinting Escobedo, who waited for Isbell to charge before flipping the ball under the keeper with her outside foot and into the open net.
Escobedo put the cherry on the sundae with her second goal and her team’s fourth at the 13:10 mark, popping one in from 18 yards out.
“Those were some pretty good shots, good leg on them,” Chapman said. “She’s the leading scorer on our team, and she came through big tonight when we needed it.”
“It feels great, just as long as we get the win,” Escobedo said.
Salado, which featured 13 underclassmen on its 15-player roster, produced its best chance to break up the shutout with 11 minutes to play. Freshman Annie Ewton had a clean look from about 15 yards out, but arched her kick high up over the goal.
For University, it’s just the start of what the Lady Trojans hope will be a deep playoff run. They found inspiration in the Trojan boys’ state championship last year, and they’d like one of their own.
“We want to go all the way, as far as we can,” Escobedo said. “Just work hard, and go all the way. The girls want to be up there with them.”