By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (April 6, 2017) — While headlines often get stolen away by a bevy of talented freshmen who have combined for the bulk of goals and assists on the season, it’s seniors in the back who have anchored the Stephenville girls soccer team that is making its third consecutive appearance in the Region I-4A championship tournament.
That’s okay with Midwestern State signee Savannah Alford. It’s clean sheets, not headlines, after all, that get the four-year starter excited.
Alford is preparing for a 15th playoff start when Stephenville faces Melissa in a regional semifinal kicking off at 1 p.m. Friday at Birdville Fine Arts & Athletics Complex. That’s almost the equivalent of a fifth season just in post season matches alone.
“I’m excited and pumped about it and just ready to go far,” Alford said Wednesday. “This team is really good, and I believe if we keep playing the way we have, we’ll go far.”
As in farther that any Honeybee soccer team before.
Stephenville had never reached the regional tournament before Casey Weil became head coach in 2007-08. In 10 seasons under Weil, the Bees have reached the “Sweet 16” five times. But never have they taken that next step, reaching the regional final to come within one win of advancing to the state tournament.
If they pull it off this time around, Alford, the team’s sweeper, will no doubt play a key role.
“You know what you’re going to get every single game with her. She’s going to make it very difficult for any opponent that we face,” Weil said. “She makes it difficult for them to be successful. She’s a great leader on the field, she’s very passionate about the game, and she’s extremely competitive and hates to lose, which is what you want everywhere but especially out of the back.”
The experience of Alford and other seniors, such as fellow defender Kalee Wright, has been especially important this season, with nine freshmen playing on the varsity throughout the season and more being added to the roster for the playoffs.
“They’re not sacred or intimidated by the big teams, not at all,” said Alford. “I feel like because they are so young they know they have to work even harder to impress and reach their goals, and that’s what they’ve done. Now we have to go to work again and try to reach another big goal – to get to the state tournament.”
No freshman is impacted more by Alford’s presence than keeper Madison Wyly.
“I don’t know what I would do without her or Kalee, and even Beatris (Chavarria, a freshman defender), all three of them help me a lot,” said Wyly, who has posted three consecutive clean sheets in the playoffs, where Stephenville has outscored opponents 15-0 including a 3-0 blanking of Brownwood in the regional quarterfinals Tuesday. “I feel like our whole defensive unit works together well.”
Alford has been impressed by the young keeper, who entered the season with big shoes to fill after Jordyn Howle moved on to play collegiately at Texas A&M-Commerce.
“She’s progressed throughout the year, talks to me more, tells me when she wants the ball,” said Alford. “When the other teams have scored, I’ve just told her to shake it off. Everyone gives up a goal once in a while. We just have to stay focused, keep talking to each other and move on.”
Not that Stephenville has allowed many goals. Opponents have scored just six all year, actually, and one of those was by Burkburnett in a 12-1 Honeybee win.
“To play defense well you have defend as a whole team, and we’ve certainly done that. Beatris marks the other team’s best player every game and has just been remarkable, and of course Kalee and Savannah back there are so smart and strong,” Weil said. “We know the teams we’ll play at this point are all capable of producing chances, but it gives us some confidence knowing who we have in the back and how well they have played all year, especially late in district and now in the playoffs.
“But even our girls up front defend well. If you really watch and understand soccer, you will see that our girls up front, Ciara and Gracie, when they are attacking, they are good about playing hard to one side, where it’s easy to read where the ball’s coming from if they do get it out.”
There’s only one tournament Alford wants to reach that she hasn’t been to yet, and that’s the UIL State Tournament in Georgetown. Someone will be headed there following this weekend’s action in Birdville.
That means Alford is two more clean sheets – or wins even if the sheet doesn’t stay so tidy – from her ultimate high school goal.
“We’ve been there and we faced Melissa my sophomore year, and of course we got Kennedale last year, so we know those teams and how good they can be,” Alford said. “But we can be that good, too, and I know if we go in there and play our tempo and our game like Coach Weil says, that we can win there. If we play the way we know how, we can go to state.”