(Editor’s note: This is the first in a five-part series on the Stephenville High School soccer teams that have reached the proverbial “Sweet 16” and are competing this weekend in the 4A Region I Tournament in Kennedale. More to come Thursday and Friday on The Flash.)
By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 7, 2016) — Stephenville fans probably couldn’t believe their eyes, but rest assured you weren’t seeing things.
Yes, Jordyn Howle was actually forced to make a goal-saving play against Brownwood Tuesday.
It was the best – and arguable the only – scoring chance Howle has faced these playoffs for a Stephenville team that has not allowed a post season goal, outscoring Bridgeport in bi-district (7-0), Pampa in area (1-0) and Brownwood in a regional quarterfinal (3-0) by a combined tally of 11-0.
“Yeah it’s a good and a bad thing. I get bored back there, but we’re continually winning,” said keeper Howle, who has signed with Texas A&M-Commerce. “I just have to stay on my toes so I’m ready when the time comes that I need to make a save like that one.”
While Stephenville fans were collecting their breath from a moment of shock after Brownwood actually won a ball in the midfield and mounted its only real attacking possession of the match at Lem Brock Field, Howle was like a kid on Christmas morning.
The Stephenville keeper did what she most always does on the rare occasion that Honeybee midfielders and defenders actually let a ball through. She calmly stepped out of goal to challenge the oncoming Lady Lion, then slid to the pitch, reading the strike perfectly and blocking it with her legs before covering the ball. Within seconds she delivered it down the field for an attack that ended with Bayleigh Chaviers scoring her second goal for a 2-0 lead just before intermission.
“It was big because I collected the ball and eliminated their chance to score. We didn’t want them to get on the board or get any confidence going, that’s why it was a big play,” Howle said.
The rest is history. Stephenville was ahead 2-0 instead of being tied 1-1 when Brownwood got the wind in the second half. Not even the wind could slow the pounding, however, as Stephenville kept firing away.
Howle, on the other hand, returned to her goal box to stand, bored, the rest of the evening, until celebration time with her teammates following the routine 3-0 win.
Except there’s nothing routine about the one-and-done world of the UIL soccer playoffs.
“Because I’m a senior it would mean a lot to win the regional and go to state. I’ve always wanted to play in the state tournament, says Howle.
She’ll get her chance at the regional this weekend, beginning with a 1:30 p.m. Friday match against regional tournament host Kennedale, the reigning champ and top-ranked club in 4A. The winner moves to the regional final at 11 a.m. Saturday against Melissa or Abilene Wylie.
“I definitely think we can compete with and even beat Kennedale. The big thing for me is being a leader, reminding the girls constantly that we’ll be fine,” said Howle, who knows she won’t be standing board in the box come Friday. “Even if we do get scored on, we just have to remind each other that it’s a long game and we can win this.”
Kennedale fired 35 shots and beat Argyle 3-1 in a regional quarterfinal Tuesday. But that isn’t an alarming number to Howle, regardless how few shots she’s faced this post season.
“I also play competitive soccer outside school and we faced a team from Denmark that had girls who were just outstanding compared some of the girls we play in high school,” said Howle, noting that she was forced to make upwards of 50 saves in half against Denmark. “When we play someone like Kennedale, I look at them as a Denmark type team. I know I have to be on my toes the whole time and ready to move quick.”
Something she hasn’t had to do very often this season.
“Our (midfielders) and defense are so good, but we know at this stage against the teams who are left it’s going to get more competitive. There will be shots coming, so I have to be ready.”
And like a baseball player, the senior keeper has her own superstitions to help her stay prepared.
“It’s silly, but you know how you have a right sock and a left sock? Well I always put the right sock on my left foot and the left one on my right,” she laughed. “And I never take off my gloves at halftime, because I’m afraid it will mess with my mojo.”
Texas A&M-Commerce coaches apparently believe she has the right goalkeeping mojo to be a fixture there throughout her college career. Enough so to persuade her to turn down an offer from Division I Texas State.
“The coach (at TAMUC) said if I work hard I have a shot to start my very first game there, and that’s what led me to Texas A&M-Commerce over Texas State,” she said. “I’m excited, playing college soccer has always been a dream.”
Like playing in the state tournament. With many of her best friends along for the ride.
“I’ve always played competitive soccer (outside school), but I love playing high school,” she says. “These are the girls I grew up with and we’re a family.”
And she will stop at nothing to help her team to the zenith of the high school game.
“I have to have that mindset in place that no ball is going to the back of the net. It doesn’t matter, even if I have to take out my own players. I will do anything possible to keep the ball out. Whatever it takes, let’s do it.”