The madness of March isn’t limited to the basketball court.
Upsets happen every year in every sport, and that’s a lesson that the coaches of Central Texas’ top high school soccer programs are trying to impart as the UIL playoffs get ready to kick off on Thursday.
Waco High boys coach Kris Kahler presides over a grindstone-sniffing bunch that has put together a historically great season thus far, with a 19-1-1 record. But as Waco High prepares for its Class 5A bi-district contest against Lindale on Friday night in Corsicana, Kahler doesn’t want his team letting its guard down for a moment.
“Teams aren’t in the playoffs if they’re not good. Our guys know that everybody in the playoffs is good,” Kahler said. “What concerns me about (Lindale) is the speed of their forward. He’s someone we’ll have to devote some attention to. I also see that they’re kind of inconsistent – they might lose a game 5-2 and win the next one 1-0. We don’t want to catch them on the wrong end of that roller coaster, or we’ll be in trouble.”
Work ethic and effort haven’t really been an issue for the Lions. Kahler said he put the team through an “offseason from hell,” a series of rugged workouts that led to some players quitting. The ones who toughed it out, however, gained a better perspective of what it takes to compete at an elite level, Kahler said.
Waco High has 10 seniors on its roster, including four-year starter Juan Arroyo at forward. Kahler called Arroyo a “consistent leader,” but such responsibility hasn’t been limited to the veterans.
“The one that shocked me is Nathaniel Lopez, our sophomore defender,” Kahler said. “He’s really committed, and it’s cool to see a sophomore step up like that. It’s great, because some of the seniors aren’t necessarily leaders, but they know their role. We have a natural balance, a great role recognition on this team.”
Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field is utopia for any soccer squad fortunate enough to still be playing, as that’s the site for the state tournament. Waco High’s boys are hardly the only Central Texas team with serious aspirations of reaching that destination. From Midway to China Spring, from Belton to Gatesville, teams all over the area are hopeful of extending their seasons all the way to mid-April.
It’s been a special season already for La Vega’s boys. The Pirates (12-5) won the first district championship of Paul Deleon’s 13-year tenure at La Vega this year, a fact the coach relayed to his surprised players at lunch this week.
“They were pretty excited,” Deleon said. “It’s amazing to see what a little confidence can do. They start to think, ‘Hey, maybe we can take it a little further.”
La Vega didn’t find its footing until a few weeks into the season. The Pirates opened the year with a 1-5 record, but have won 11 straight matches heading into their bi-district battle with Huffman-Hargrave, a first-year program.
Four-year starter Mariano Falcon has drilled 16 goals for the Pirates. Deleon swells with pride about the effort of his team’s defense as well, led by freshman defender Alex Zarate. “He just doesn’t make mistakes back there,” Deleon said.
On the girls’ side, Lorena (17-2) has crafted a record-setting year for the program. Ann Burnside has coached for a long time, and has seldom seen a team tap into the team concept any better.
“This group has really embraced putting the we before the me,” Burnside said. “It makes such a huge different. I wish every team had that philosophy. They have such an enthusiam for one another, they want to see everyone do well.”
The results prove that Lorena’s one-for-all mantra is working. The Lady Leopards set a school record with a 10-0 district record, capturing the program’s first district title.
With 35 goals on the year, forward Maddie Miller stands out as a threat to find the net from almost anywhere past midfield. Lorena’s defensive prowess is headed up by fullback Bailey Allison and midfielder Katie Burnside.
Other Centex girls teams equipped to do some damage in the playoffs include Midway, a regional quarterfinalist team in 2016, and China Spring, which also reached the third round of the playoffs last year for the first time in school history.
State powerlifting meet starts in Arlington
A parade of vehicles will make their way from the Central Texas area up Highway 36 or Highway 6 to Abilene this weekend.
Abilene’s Taylor County Expo Center is again the host for the Texas High School Powerlifting Association State Meet, which will be held Friday and Saturday. A total of 28 athletes from Central Texas schools qualified for state at their respective regional meets, and several figure to be strong contenders for state titles.
Strong being the operative word. Take Waco High senior Omar Essix, for instance. Essix hoisted 565 pounds in the squat, 285 in the bench press and a whopping 600 in the dead lift at regionals to claim the championship in the 181-pound class. Not only was that good enough for the regional title, but Essix actually lifted more total weight than the champion in the next weight class up, the 198-pound division.
Among Centex schools, Belton qualified the most lifters for state, with four. Fairfield and Troy have the next largest contingents with three qualifiers each.
Weigh-ins for state will take place Friday, while the opening ceremonies will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
District playoff game features clash of titans
Sometimes district clashes don’t just pit two of the top teams in a certain area, but rather the entire state.
That’ll be the case on Friday night, when No. 1-ranked West softball meets No. 6 Whitney at 7 p.m. Friday in Whitney. The Lady Wildcats are 17-2 on the year and 5-0 in District 19-3A, with their only two losses of the year coming to Class 2A power Crawford.
West, a year removed from the first state championship in school history, hasn’t experienced much of a dropoff. Guyla Smith’s team is 17-2-1 overall and 5-0 in district. The Lady Trojans’ only games that didn’t result in victories were a 6-6 tie with Liberty Hill in the Liberty Hill tournament, and one-run losses to Class 6A Midway and Class 6A Abilene.
Super Centex soccer team nominations open
Central Texas soccer coaches whose seasons are complete may submit nominations for the annual Super Centex teams, both girls and boys.
Nominations should include a player’s position, height, classification, pertinent statistics and any awards or honors he or she has won. The Trib will also select a Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Coach of the Year. Coaches can submit their all-district teams for publication as well.
The annual Super Centex basketball teams will be published this weekend – girls on Saturday, boys on Sunday.