GEORGETOWN (April 12, 2017) — For Stephenville girls soccer, it’s been four straight days of hype since knocking off two-time defending state champ and No. 1 ranked Kennedale in the Region I-4A championship.
Today, however, it’s back to business.
And business, for teams that have reached the state tournament at Birkelbach Field, couldn’t be better.
It’s the state tournament debut for both Stephenville (23-4) and Region II-4A champ Athens (15-10-1), who meet in a semifinal at 11 a.m. today with the winner advancing to the championship against Jasper (26-1) or Boerne (20-4-1) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Athens was a surprise to come out of Region II, where most had Kilgore penciled in for a return trip to the state tournament. But to be fair, it was Kennedale, not Stephenville, that many thought would be here this week from Region I.
Now it’s two teams rewriting their program history books clashing in the 4A soccer equivalent of the final four, and while both sides have persevered many trials to reach this point, they have done it with a stark contrast in style.
Athens got here despite allowing 65 goals because the Lady Hornets have generated 123 of their own. They have outscored four playoff opponents 24-8.
Stephenville has allowed just seven goals all season including just one in five playoff victories. The Bees have scored 99 goals on the year and outscored their five Region I playoff foes 17-1.
The defensive numbers for Stephenville are as daunting, if not more so, than the offensive stats compiled by Athens.
“It all starts with how you play out of the back and I’ll take our back line against anybody else’s in the state,” said Stephenville head coach Casey Weil, who is in his 10th year in Stephenville.
Yes, the Honeybees will be marking Athens senior star Makayle Traxson with a freshman, but not just any freshman.
“Beatris (Chavarria) will be marking her everywhere she goes, and if we contain her we should win,” said Weil. “I don’t even think about her being a freshman anymore when we make those decisions because she’s seen players like (Traxson) all year. Beatris is one of the best players in 4A girls soccer for any age. I’m glad she’s ours and I’m glad we have her for three more years.”
Chavarria has successfully marked numerous prolific scorers such as Randi Dennison of Abilene Wylie (three times) and Erika McIntyre of Kennedale, and it’s not as if she doesn’t have top shelf help in the back in Midwestern State signees Savannah Alford and Kalee Wright, not to mention another star in the making in freshman keeper Madison Wyly and her proven fellow keeper Alyssa Northcutt.
It could be argued the challenge of scoring goals for Stephenville becomes less daunting than against Melissa and Kennedale in last week’s regional matches. It took 72 minutes to break through versus Melissa, and even then it was on a penalty kick by Brinkley Harlow to level the match before the winner came with 28 seconds remaining on a corner by Haleigh Beam into the danger zone that deflected off a Melissa player’s hip and into the net. And that was easy scoring compared to the matchup with Kennedale when there were no goals either way in 100 minutes of regulation and overtime with Stephenville eventually winning 3-1 in a penalty shootout.
“We’ve seen some very tough defenses, both in our district and in the regional tournament, so hopefully that has prepared us to create opportunities against the best teams in the state,” Weil said. “But you can’t just create the opportunities, you have to finish them. We had some chances last week where we didn’t finish, and we need to finish those to win at the state tournament.”
Ciara Johnston, Gracie Bales and Haleigh Beam have been the leading producers offensively for Stephenville. All are among the seven freshmen who have started for the Honeybee side since the season opener back in January.
“These freshman have grown up. You don’t play Abilene Wylie three times and Mineral Wells and Brownwood both three times and Melissa and Kennedale and come out of that if you’re playing like freshmen,” Weil said. “Just like I said about (Chavarria), age is not going to be an excuse for this team. We aren’t looking yet to the potential we have for the future, because we are here now. Let’s finish what we started now.”
The teams do have common opponents, with Stephenville winning three times in four matches against a Brownwood team that blanked Athens 3-0. Athens also lost to aforementioned Kennedale, 7-1.
“Those games were early in the year, so yeah, anyone can look online and see their schedule and who they have played, but I’m not looking that far back. Everyone who is in the state tournament is on a big win streak now, everyone here is playing their best soccer at the right time and you have to find a way to be better than them.”
View each team’s roster and schedule on the UIL website here (http://www.uiltexas.org/soccer/state).