By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 3, 2016) — Stephenville earned the top playoff seed from a district for the first time in school history last season.
Then the Honeybees mowed through three playoff opponents to earn a return trip to the regional tournament before falling to eventual state champ Kennedale on its home field in the round of 16.
But then came the graduation of 16 seniors.
“Anytime you lose 16 seniors, that’s a lot to replace, but we have a couple proven leaders and other good players back and we have a freshman class we are very excited about,” said Casey Weil, who has guided the Honeybees to the post season every year since he became their head coach in 2007-08. “The way we have constructed our program is for us to be faster, stronger and more physical than our opponents, and we have to establish that again.”
The 2017 seasons officially begins next Tuesday when Stephenville visits Decatur for a full slate of girls and boys games.
Leading the way in fast, strong, physical play will be senior standout Savannah Alford, a dominating defender with a versatile skill set Weil says can help the team in many ways.
“Savannah is so strong out of the back that it’s hard not to leave her back there,” Weil said of the Midwestern State commit. “But she’s so skilled and athletic, she can help you in the front and she can also help at midfield, so needless to say she’s going to be very important to us.”
As is Kalee Wright, the other three-year varsity letter winner returning for her senior campaign.
“Kalee is strong out of the back, too, and her and Savanna will be our leaders,” Weil said.
Karsyn Kimbrough suffered a knee injury during a playoff victory over rival Brownwood that sidelined her from her summer soccer schedule and also during volleyball last fall.
“Hopefully we can get Karsyn back, because she’s very gifted,” Weil said. “And everyone else who is returning is going to help us, too. We may be moving a lot of girls to different positions because we lost so many players, but I’m expecting all of them to help us.”
There are big shoes to fill in net, too, where Jordyn Howle graduated and moved on to help Texas A&M-Commerce to a historic NCAA Division II season last fall.
“Jordyn is a huge loss, but we have two girls battling it out and I’m confident we will be in good shape in goal,” Weil said.
Alyssa Northcutt and Madison Wyly will both see time before district, the head coach says.
“We’re going to see how we play with both of them in there and try to decide by district which one gives our team the best chance to win,” said Weil. “It really comes down to which one of them meshes better with the other girls we have in place in the back, because they have to function as a cohesive unit to be good defensively. Either way it goes, I think they are both pretty solid.”
The big X factor for Weil and his club could be the development of the talented freshman class.
“We have a lot of freshmen we are excited about and they are going to have to help us,” he said. “They have some good leaders ahead of them, and they are already starting to fit in really well with the older girls in practice, so I think they will come along quickly and we will be fine.”
Just like they always have been under Weil.
“We have good kids, the best in the world, I believe, right here in Stephenville,” he said. “One thing I never have to worry about is our kids being willing to work hard and strive to improve every day. As long as that’s the case, we’ll always be tough to beat.”