On Friday, with seven minutes left in the first half of a scoreless tie, the Belton Lady Tigers were on the attack against host Copperas Cove.
From the net, Cove goalie Alex Johnson spotted a rolling soccer ball 20 yards in front of her. A Lady Tiger forward was chasing down the ball.
Two seconds later, 16 yards from the net, Johnson dove head first, cradled the ball and took an unintentional kick in the head from Belton’s forward. Johnson rose to her feet and let fly a 35-yard punt, booting Cove out of danger.
“Honestly, on that play I wasn’t worried at all,” said Johnson, a junior. “I’ll do anything to stop a soccer ball. Sometimes that ‘anything’ comes with a price. I get kicked, I get hit, I get tackled — no big deal. I never go into a game thinking I’ll get hurt. I only go into a game thinking that I’ll do whatever it takes to stop a goal.”
Eventually the ultra-talented, district-leading Lady Tigers prevailed 5-0. But don’t blame Johnson. Belton has outscored its opponents 67-2 this season. Belton peppered Johnson with 28 shots total Friday, opposed to three by Cove. Johnson’s save total of 23 was a career-high.
“Alex Johnson was absolutely spectacular against Belton,” said Cove head coach Hagen Streckel. “She really rose to the occasion. She has really picked up her play for us this season and that game against Belton was by far her best.”
“Alex has been outstanding this year,” said Cove assistant coach Pat Rox. “We’d have given up double-digits in goals in some games if it wasn’t for her making so many great saves for us.”
Cove was eliminated from postseason play two weeks ago. But playing a competitive game against Belton was a goal the Lady Bulldawgs set for themselves.
“And we accomplished that goal,” Johnson said. “Our effort was strong start-to-finish. We played with intensity the whole game and we kept the score close at halftime (2-0). If we can continue the effort we gave against Belton in our final week, I think good results will follow.”
Cove closes out its season next week with contests against Ellison and Temple.
“I’d like to see us get at least one win and maybe even win both,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, I’d like to see us keep up with the teamwork we had in our game against Belton.”
Aims to improve
Johnson, a two-year varsity starter for Cove, will be playing club soccer in the spring and summer.
“I really want to improve by next soccer season so I can do my part in helping us finish high in districts and make the playoffs,” Johnson said. “I think I’ve gotten better this season on stopping the high balls. I now want to improve on becoming more of a leader, more commanding on the field.”
Johnson, according to her coaches, has the talent to play the field.
“But goalie is the position I love the most,” she said. “Playing goalie is awesome. You have so much responsibility.”
Several Belton players made note of Johnson’s courage in goal.
“I am proud of the way I played against them,” Johnson said. With a chuckle, she added, “I know sometimes I’m daring to the point of stupidity. But I didn’t flinch and I was able to stop a lot of the shots. It really was a fun night to be a goalie — Belton kept me busy.”