By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 6, 2017) — It wasn’t that Casey Weil was trying to downplay anything at the beginning of the season. He was simply being honest.
Asking Weil his outlook for 2017 after reaching back-to-back regional tournaments on the shoulders of the Class of 2016, he answered as truthfully as he knew how.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” I remember him saying. “When you graduate 16..that’s a lot.”
And it wasn’t just the quantity, but the quality. Bayleigh Chaviers contributed at Miami (Fla.) as a true freshman last fall, while keeper Jordyn Howle helped Texas A&M-Commerce to its first NCAA Division II playoff journey. And they weren’t the only stalwarts the Honeybees had to replace.
“I really did’t know what we would have,” said Weil on Wednesday as he recalled his preseason thoughts. “You hear things, you know there are girls coming up who are freshmen now who believe they are good and expect to be good, but until you get them out there and really until you get them out there against a quality opponent, there is a lot of uncertainty.”
Weil has had some good freshman classes throughout his 10 seasons in Stephenville, during which he’s guided the Honeybees to five regional tournament appearances. Never before Weil came to town in 2007-08 had Stephenville reached a regional in the sport.
But nothing could have prepared the now successful veteran head coach for what he had in this freshman class, which has produced the vast majority of the club’s goals and assists through 21 wins including three in the playoffs by the combined score of 15-0.
Nine freshmen have been on the varsity since the beginning of the season and all have made major contributions at some point in the season. There are more freshmen traveling along for the playoffs, even seeing action late in their routes – 7-0 over Burkburnett in bi-district, 5-0 over San Elizario in area and 3-0 over 3-4A district rival Brownwood in a regional quarterfinal just Tuesday in Mineral Wells.
That all leads to a 1 p.m. Friday match with Melissa at Birdville Fine Arts and Athletic Complex, site of the Region I-4A championship tournament that also has two-time reigning state champ Kennedale facing Mineral Wells at 1 p.m. The winners of those matches meet at 11 a.m. Saturday to determine a regional champion that advances to next week’s state tournament in Georgetown.
And no doubt, the same freshmen who have provided thrills throughout the 21-4 season will be called upon to carry the torch again in the this weekend.
“It’s shocking, it’s really shocking. You’ll have classes come in with two or three good ones, maybe even four or five good ones if you’re lucky, and then they get better through the years,” said Weil. “But to have nine or 10 freshmen stepping in, even 11 or 12 now with the girls we’ve brought up, and to throw them into varsity games and for them to play the way they have against the opponents we are playing is unheard of.
“Madison Wyly in goal has been outstanding and Beatris Chavarria marks the other team’s best player every single game and is a terrific young player,” Weil added. “They have some good seniors back there with them, of course, but to give up only six goals in 25 games is really solid, and I’m proud of those girls.
“Obviously we have girls in that class who can really score with Gracie (Bales), Ciara (Johnston) and Hayleigh (Beam), and Jimena Espinoza and Claire Choate are great, Brinkley Harlow is another one, and Courtney Langley has had some big games.”
One-by-one, Weil listed them all.
Bales and Johnston have made the most headlines, though Beam has earned her fair share including two goals – both on assists from Bales – and an assist – on a goal by Johnston – in the victory against Brownwood Tuesday, certainly not the first time freshmen have combined for all the goals and assists this season.
“To do what we’ve done with the age that we are, it’s really exciting,” said Weil. “And people think I mean for the future when I say that, and sure, I’m excited about the future, but I mean it’s exciting right now. I think we have the team that if we stay focused and continue to be true to what we do, we can play with anyone right now.”
His freshman keeper believes it.
“I’m proud of us and everything we’ve done, especially since most our starters are young,” said Wyly. “But our mindset right now is to focused on our goal, which is state. We want to stay humble, stay hungry and go make it happen.”
Weil knows it won’t be easy. It never is once any classification is whittled down to its ‘Sweet 16.’
“You have to play consistently at a very high level once you get to this point,” he said. “You can’t make any mistakes out the back, you have to win balls in the midfield and up front you have to take advantages of your opportunities when you get them.”
And many of those opportunities will be taken on by freshmen.
“I know they’re young, but we played in a very competitive district, and we’ve dominated teams in the playoffs. These girls have proven they can play at a high level,” said Weil. “I really believe they will step up and play well this weekend and give us a chance to do some things we have never done here before.”
With so many freshmen helping carry the Honeybees deep into the post season, the future is exciting for sure.
And the present isn’t too shabby, either.