STEPHENVILLE (July 7, 2017) — They scored a penalty and a corner in the final eight minutes to come back and win 2-1 over Melissa in a regional semifinal.
Then came the epic double shutout when they survived 100 minutes including overtime in a 0-0 draw, before stunning two-time reigning state champ Kennedale with a 3-1 win on penalties to clinch the first regional championship and state tournament appearance in program history.
It was perhaps the greatest game in the three-year history of 4A girls soccer, just 24 hours after another classic, and 72 hours before the regional champs would ease their charter bus into Georgetown for their shot to win it all.
After cruising through a 2-0 state semifinal shutout of Athens, one final test remained. It was 1-1 in the 50th minute when freshman Madison Carter scored the biggest goal in program history.
And then it was the defenders’ turn, and no team conference-wide could match the combination of all-state and college-bound star power that comprised their defense.
A unit that turned in 21 blank sheets and allowed two goals only once in 29 matches negated the final series of threats between them and the ultimate prize their energetic head coach had spent the past 10 years steering the program toward.
And when the ball was cleared past midfield into their offensive third with their opponent left hopeless as the final five seconds ticked away, that coach hopped, jumped, skipped and finally just ran to the center of the pitch, embracing his players – his champions – in the greatest celebration of their program’s history.
They survived ever tense moment, and the back half of the state playoffs were certainly full of them. With the last of so many obstacles removed from their path, in the final arena to be conquered, they stood atop the mountain looking down at the challengers that lie eliminated in their wake.
The Stephenville Honeybees are – and forever will be – 2017 Texas UIL Conference 4A girls soccer state champions.
As Texas Association of Soccer Coaches 4A coach of the year Casey Weil lined up for the delicious barbecue buffet at the state championship ring and award presentations for his Honeybees at Newman Hall Friday, the anxious moments near the end of the Kennedale upset seem like distant memories.
There was nothing tense about Thursday’s celebration, though the emotion was still high. For Weil, it always will be when looking back on the first Stephenville team to win it all.
Five days after winning the state title, Weil was working one of the jumping pits at an area track and field meet in Springtown. The public address announcer was reading off the results of some event that had just been completed. He read third, he read second and when he got to first, Weil butted in, “and in first place in girls soccer, Stephenville!” and of course those around him – other Stephenville coaches working the same field event that beautiful mid-April morning – shared a laugh.
Almost three months after the state tournament, still unable to wipe away the same ear-to-ear grin, Weil admits that even now it has not all sunk in completely. He’s still adjusting to life as a state champion coach, still relishing every opportunity to recognize the team he guided through trial and tribulation until all their hard work reached the ultimate fruition.”
“I don’t think I’ve come down a single notch,” said the state champion coach as he waited patiently Friday in the buffet line. “I’m still amped up and will be for a while.”
One-by-one, Weil read off the names of each state champion. He presented them certificates commending their success as varsity letter winners, academic all-district and all-district picks, all-region selections and even all-state standouts.
And then there was one. By sheer coincidence, her jersey number, 24, the highest on the team, making her the last champion called.
Perhaps that No. 24 jersey should be forever removed from the stacks of clean uniforms awaiting the beginning of each new season, instead being retired to hang in a gym, framed somewhere in the high school lobby or even displayed permanently at Lem Brock Field, commemorating SHS girls soccer’s own version of what kids these days call the GOAT, or greatest of all time.
Weil was visibly shaken as he called up to the stage the player recognized above any other, not just on her team or in her conference, but in any conference across the great state of Texas.
Weil read off her senior season accomplishments one-by-one, the prestige growing with each passing title. Four-year varsity letter winner and senior captain, first-team all-district, District 4-4A Defensive MVP, TASCO first-team all-region, TASCO first-team all-state, UIL 4A state all-tournament team and of course UIL 4A State Tournament MVP. He even gave her a shout out for being selected to play on the TASCO Region I-4A all-star team that he coached, drawing chuckles from the crowd when he reminded them of their 8-0 victory over the all-stars of Region IV.
But the other side of the emotional gauntlet returned once more. Weil had one title left to share, the loftiest of all individual honors to be earned in Texas high school girls soccer.
Savannah Alford, Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A-5A-6A Soccer Athlete of the Year.
There were several rounds of applause throughout the player recognitions, each Honeybee having left her own unique mark on the championship season. The applause for Alford, though, was different, as those invited to the exclusive celebration understood full and well what they had spent much of the past spring witnessing first hand. Alford was the best senior soccer star in Texas, and the Honeybees of Stephenville were the best team in all of Conference 4A.
Alford, hugged her coach once more, then took the stage alongside teammates, best friends and members of an elite sisterhood of state champions.
And then came the rings.
Weil turned to face his team, each member holding their ring, still in the box, each instructed to leave them closed until opening them altogether. When Weil gave the green light lids sprung open, smiles spread across faces and families inched closer for their own view of the jewelry commemorating the title.
The rings are the final memorabilia from the journey of a lifetime, a trek ending with the Honeybees standing tall as champions in every sense of the word.
A thousand photos – probably a gross understatement – must have ensued. Cool ones like Natalie Elizondo, Haleigh Beam and Ciara Johnston matching poses side by side, displaying their rings so that if they had gone on their other hands, an unknowing individual may have thought there had been a mass marriage proposal.
There was even a birthday photo for Claire Choate, who held up her ring while posing with Weil.
On @theflashsports, it was later tweeted, “@clairechoate just received something pretty cool, you know, as far as birthday presents and state title rings go! @stephenvilleisd” with the photo of Weil and Choate included.
Choate later replied, also on Twitter, “Doesn’t get much better than this…”
No, it doesn’t.
Earlier, before he introduced the team Weil declined to break into any kind of long speech as the time for those words, he surmised, had come and gone. He did say, “The girls know how I feel about them. They know I love them (he paused, leaning into a shirt sleeve to wipe away tears of joy he will always shed when looking back on this team and its magical run) and I do. I love them very much.”
And it’s evident – obvious, really – they love him right back.
Enough to battle daily in practice. Enough to go to war 29 times on the pitch, setting school records for most wins, 25, and fewest losses, 4. Enough to forge on through three 4-4A matches each with Abilene Wylie, Brownwood and Mineral Wells – before all the district’s members won bi-district and area playoff matches. Enough to win playoff nail biters against Melissa and in the final over Boerne, and yes, enough to survive 100-plus minutes of almost unfathomable tension and knock off No. 1 Kennedale, the only 4A champion the state had previously known.
To those unfamiliar with the journey, or with the hard work, sacrifice and camaraderie required to achieve such a lofty goal, Friday was just barbecue, certificates, plaques and rings.
But to the adamant supporters, families, coaches and of course the state champion players for the 2017 Stephenville Honeybee soccer team, Friday was an opportunity to gather once more and enshrine forever what freshman all-state forward Gracie Bales once termed on Twitter “our blood, our sweat, their tears.”
State champion Stephenville Honeybees.
Four words comprising one simple phrase.
With a most gratifying ring to it.
Photos by The Flash Today