By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 9, 2015) — There are no more easy victories, no more pretenders left to cruise past into the next round.
The soccer playoffs are down to the ‘Sweet 16’ in each classification, and for Stephenville that means its second-ever trip to a regional tournament. The Honeybees are in a loaded Region I-4A bracket being played off in Kennedale Friday and Saturday.
Stephenville and No. 3 Melissa meet at 1:30 p.m. Friday, following an 11 a.m. regional semifinal between No. 4 Abilene Wylie and No. 6 Kennedale. The winners will decide the regional champion and state tournament representative at 11 a.m. Saturday.
After a 4-0 win over District 4-4A rival Mineral Wells in Tuesday’s regional quarterfinals, the level of competition will swell considerably for the Honeybees when they face off with undefeated and twice tied Melissa.
“Everybody we’ll see now is legit, but that’s how it should be and that’s how we expect it,” said Stephenville head coach Casey Weil. “We seem to thrive and play our best against good competition, our girls do a great job getting up for it. I think we will rise to the occasion and play great.”
Melissa is making history in just it’s first year of competitive UIL soccer. Make no mistake though, it’s not as if girls in Melissa haven’t been kicking the round ball for years in North Texas club play, especially Texas A&M-signee Emily Bates.
Bates had 58 goals over the first 16 matches for Melissa, according to a story published Feb. 5 by HeraldDemocrat.com. That’s a whopping 3.6 goals per match for the senior and U.S. U17 National Team invitee. She has been rated as high as the No. 2 prospect in the state by some.
But if anyone has a clue as to the type of player Bates is, it’s Stephenville’s own NCAA Division I commit, Bayleigh Chaviers. A junior who verbally committed last spring with Miami (Fla.), Chaviers is also a great scorer, and has played with Bates as a member of the Dallas Texans Soccer Club.
Weil is well aware of what Bates can do, but says his club must stop more than just the senior striker. As a team, Melissa averages an eye-popping 7.2 goals per game, according to results posted on Maxpreps.
“(Bates) is really good, there’s no doubt, she’s someone who can beat you every time if you’re not careful. But I like how we’re playing out of the back, we’ve been really solid back there, we just have to be sure to keep her marked,” said Weil. “But it’s more than just her. You can’t say, it’s all one one player to stop (Bates), it’s on all of us to stop all of them.”
Melissa tied Frisco Lone Star 2-2 on January 13 and tied Kennedale 3-3 on February 6. Kennedale, of course, has home field in this weekend’s regional. Stephenville defeated Kennedale 4-0 on January 30, just a week before the tie between Melissa and Kennedale.
Besides its ties against Lone Star and Kennedale, the most notable opposition Melissa has faced has come from Argyle, which it swept in district play.
“They’re undefeated and they’ve dominated the teams they are supposed to dominate. They have definitely taken care of business without playing down to their level of competition,” said Weil. “But we played (and tied No. 2 ranked) Salado early in the year, and we beat Kennedale. Then we got into district and played Wylie four times. I think we have played as tough or tougher a schedule than anyone in 4A.”
Interestingly, Stephenville and Wylie drew their four matches, each team winning two. The last two of those were tied after regulation and they alternated penalty kick victories, the last going the way of Wylie to determine the 4-4A title.
“That all just shows how even it is,” said Weil, whose club is 3-2 against Wylie and Kennedale. “This regional tournament is wide open, all four teams are great. But when I look at the rosters of all four of them, I would take our girls over any of them.”
Stephenville was soundly defeated by Wichita Falls Rider the last time the Honeybees reached the regional semifinals in 2009. The Honeybees have never reached a regional final.
“We know what we’re playing for and we know we have to be at our best,” said Weil. “We have to keep playing solid out of the back and we have to finish opportunities when we get them. At this level, you don’t get 20 or 30 opportunities, you get a handful and the team that capitalizes on the most is the one that moves on.”