For the past decade, Belton soccer was an explosive juggernaut. From Tayron Martin to Luke Villamaria to Hadley Young to Chelsea Jones, the players kept coming in for the Tigers and Lady Tigers.
This year, however, has a different feel. With Killeen Daily Herald MVPs Young and Villamaria off to the college ranks, both teams expect to rely a little less on explosive playmakers and more on depth this season.
“We are not as experienced as we were in the past,” said Tigers coach Tarcisio Mosnia, adding he expects his team to be more methodical this season. “Up front we lost just about everybody. ... I think the philosophy is always there to play more ball control and teamwork. We don’t have those explosive players.
“In the past we had those guys, but we lacked in other places where we had to hide or camouflage where we are weak. This time around we are more balanced.”
That lack of explosiveness gives other teams hope of breaking Belton’s playoff stranglehold on its district opponents — even if the Lady Tigers have won eight straight district titles and the Tigers have spent much of the last few seasons ranked nationally.
This season the competition expects to be stiffer. Central Texas had somewhat of a resurgence last season as Belton, Harker Heights, Killeen and Salado made the playoffs on the boys side and Belton, Copperas Cove, Lampasas and Temple made it on the girls side.
All eight programs expect to be back, even with a new challenge in Waco Midway, which had both teams in the playoffs in District 34-4A last season.
And Salado and the Lady Badgers expect to vie for the District 34-4A title as they return the majority of their teams from last season.
“It is hard to tell (where your team is at),” Mosnia said. “The exhibitions will give me an idea of who we are, but it is tough to tell, but we have been playing pretty well.”
GIRLS TEAM PREVIEWS
Belton Lady Tigers
Last season: 20-3-3, 13-1 12-5A area finalists
Outlook: A new era begins at Belton this season. And not just because former head coach Barry Elkins has moved onto the college ranks at UMHB. Two-time Killeen Daily Herald MVP Hadley Young is gone, too, joining the Baylor Bears. That means the scoring pressure has changed and, for the first time in two years, Belton cannot depend on Young to score at least 40 goals. Looking to fill that void will be Jaime Booke, Emily Krenek and Jessie Hagen.
Player to Watch: Jamie Boone, Jr.— Boone has not had the best luck with injuries the last couple of seasons, having to come back last season after tearing her ACL as a freshman. However, the Lady Tigers can ill afford her to go down in 2013.
Copperas Cove Lady Bulldawgs
Last season: 13-12-1, 7-6-1 12-5A bi-district finalist
Outlook: In 2012, Copperas Cove created a playoff streak. This season, the Lady Bulldawgs hope to continue it. After making the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, Copperas Cove looks to extend its run with a new-look roster. All-district first team selections Alyson Sinclair and Dani Parsons and second-team member Marissa Roest are all gone, but head coach Hagen Streckel has plenty of young talent to work with and build upon.
Player to watch: Shelbie Letzer, Jr. — A two-time all-district first team selection, the midfielder obviously has the talent to lead Copperas Cove, but her leadership skills will be put to the test following the graduation of 11 teammates.
Ellison Lady Eagles
Last season: 8-15-5, 4-7-3 12-5A
Outlook: After the last 13 years under Bryan Charlton, the Lady Eagles will play its first season under new coach Matthew Watt, who comes via Cedar Creek where he was head coach the last two years. The cupboard isn’t bare for Watt, though, as he has seven varsity returners and five starters coming back, including junior scorers Alyssa Conde and Brooke Guerrero and senior Jasmine German. A big question mark could be in goal, where Ashley Street and Tamara Tack are vying for time.
Player to watch: Alyssa Conde, Jr. — Just a sophomore last season, Conde emerged late in the year and single-handedly scored all five of Ellison’s goals during a three-game stretch. This year, though, she’ll be needed to really turn the Lady Eagles’ tide.
Gatesville Lady Hornets
Last season: 4-14, 1-11 34-4A
Outlook: First-year head coach Amanda Johnson inherits a program that has nowhere to go but up after winning only four games in 2011. Although Johnson is new to the role, she is familiar with the team after being an assistant last season, so the transition should be rather seamless. It does not hurt to have 14 returning lettermen and a complementary cast of young players who are talented enough to contribute regularly before season’s end.
Player to watch: Veronica Mendez, Sr. —After landing on the all-district second team as a junior, Mendez appears poised to make a run at making the first team this year. In Gatesville’s first scrimmage of the season, Mendez scored four goals to lead the Lady Hornets past Waco La Vega 6-5.
Harker Heights Lady Knights
Last season: 9-14-2, 3-9-2 12-5A
Outlook: It’s been nine years since the Lady Knights sniffed the playoffs, but with 14 returning lettermen (including seven seniors), the postseason drought could be in danger this year. Having graduated only two from last year, experience is back in full force with nine of 11 starters returning, led by senior center mids Samantha Hammond and Sarah Negron, and senior defender Natalie Requenez.
Player to watch: Samantha Hammond, Sr. — The center mid was around the ball near the net quite a few times last season but struggled to get it in. Hammond, like the rest of the team, will need to pick up her scoring if it is going to snap a nine-year playoff drought.
Killeen Lady Roos
Last season: 9-14-1, 4-8 34-4A
Outlook: Following a break-through year in 2011, when a fourth-seeded and senior-laden Killeen team upset a district champion in the first round of the 4A playoffs, the Lady Roos re-built and struggled last season. However, its instrumental defense developed quick enough to keep Killeen in games against three of the District 34-4A playoff teams. The other, Waco Midway, moved up with Killeen into a top-heavy District 8-5A that also includes playoff-regulars Belton and Temple.
Player to watch: Nia Duran, Jr. — The goal keeper took her lumps last season in her varsity debut, giving up 25 goals against District 34-4A competition, which included 11 to fellow 8-5A foe Waco Midway. But, she also scored three shutouts and had four games in which she only allowed a single goal.
Lampasas Lady Badgers
Last season: 16-8-1, 7-5 34-4A, regional quarterfinalist
Outlook: It will be difficult for Tracy Brantley to top herself. In her first season as head coach, Brantley guided Lampasas to its first playoff victory in school history. In fact, she revived a program that won only two games in 2011 and took it three rounds deep into the playoffs, marking the Lady Badgers’ first postseason appearance in three years. Lampasas finished third in district.
Player to watch: Analise Watson, Soph. — On a team full of fresh-faced talent, Watson stands out after being named newcomer of the year during her freshman season. The midfielder was critical to Lampasas’ offense in her first high-school season, and there is no reason for her role to change in 2013.
Salado Lady Eagles
Last season: 4-20-1, 2-10 34-4A
Outlook: The Lady Eagles struggled to string wins together and suffered for it in the win column. And with only seven returners and the influx of 11 freshmen, the Salado girls could be in for another rough go in Year 2. But among those seven returners is potential, especially with juniors Anissa Peralta and Molly Colvin, and senior Taylor Shearer.
Player to watch: Madi DePriest, Sr. — Although Salado soccer coach Michael Goos had to convince the volleyball defensive standout to even try out, DePriest has impressed with her natural athletic ability in goal.
Shoemaker Lady Grey Wolves
Last season: 1-16-3, 0-14 12-5A
Outlook: The Lady Grey Wolves suffered their second straight 0-14 district season in 2012, but more wins could be on the horizon. While its district schedule certainly gets no easier with the addition of Waco Midway, Shoemaker returns a handful of talented all-district juniors in Brittany Pessah, Maddie Woodard, Keandra Gray and Kaytlin Hunkins.
Player to watch: Brittany Pessah, Jr. — Pessah was the Lady Grey Wolves only all-district first-team selection and will be counted on to help lead the Lady Grey Wolves’ goals of being competitive in every game this season.
Last season: 17-6-3, 10-3-1, area finalist
Outlook: The Tem-Cats’ 17 wins in 2012 were the most in head coach Oscar Bersoza’s tenure leading the program. While the team will undoubtedly miss the its graduated seniors, most notably District 12-5A’s goalkeeper of the year Abby Blunt, Temple still returns a plethora of talent, including all-district newcomer of the year Amanda Almonte-Rosario as well as first-team selections Breanna Anderson, Kristen Hoelscher and Hanna Wiley.
Player to watch: Amanda Almonte-Rosario, Sr. — As a junior, Almonte-Rosario was the District 12-5A newcomer of the year last season but was still just a third-team all-district pick.
BOYS TEAM PREVIEWS
Last season: 20-5-1, 13-1-1 12-5A area finalist
Outlook: Belton again did not make it as far as it thought it could in the playoffs, falling to Midlothian in the area round last season. This year’s club, though, has more modest expectations with the departure of scorers Cameron Cooper and Luke Villamaria. However, head coach Tarcisio Mosnia believes this club is the deepest his team has had in his tenure at Belton, with an experienced midfield and goalkeeper (Carlo Mosnia) and talented forwards Angel Hernandez and Timothy Williams.
Player to Watch: Angel Hernandez, Sr. — Hernandez moves from the midfield to forward to fill the scoring void left by Villamaria and Cooper last season.
Copperas Cove Bulldawgs
Last season: 4-15-5, 1-12-1 12-5A
Outlook: Copperas Cove’s district lost a pair of talented teams, only to have them replaced by equally tough competition. Bulldawgs head coach Michael Epley is hoping his team has a similar turnover. For the second consecutive season, Copperas Cove graduated 11 players, but with strong senior leadership in place, the Bulldawgs look to improve on a disappointing 2012 campaign. Copperas Cove struggled to record wins last year, especially in district.
Player to watch: Dallas Murchison, Sr. — As a junior, the midfielder put together an impressive season culminating with an all-district first team selection. And that was on a senior-heavy team. This season, Murchison will look to end his high-school career by resurrecting the program and leading it to the playoffs.
Last season: 6-13-5, 3-9-2
Outlook: The Eagles are counting on a host of experience and one familiar face returning to form to help them break from their playoff funk. Despite graduating 10 starters from last year, Ellison still returns a solid group with senior keeper Matthew Charlton back in goal for a second straight year, senior sweeper Donald Gamblin and junior midfielder Mohamed Balde, a move-in from Georgia last year.
Player to watch: Nathan Diederich, Jr. — The District 12-5A newcomer of the year in 2011, Diederich was forced to sit his entire sophomore campaign with blood clots in his brain. But he’s been cleared to play and is expected to be a major contributor scoring the ball.
Last season: 7-12-1, 4-8 34-4A
Outlook: Despite upsetting Killeen on the road in its regular-season finale, the victory was not enough to propel Gatesville into the playoffs for the first time in the program’s short history. The Hornets finished one game shy of advancing to the postseason, settling for fifth place in the district. First-year head coach Van Collins should feel good about his team’s chances of getting over the hump this year with a roster of talented returning players.
Player to watch: Sebastian Corrales, Sr. — Fresh off helping the Hornets’ football team produce the second-best season in program history and landing on the all-state first team as a kicker, Corrales looks to parlay the success onto the pitch after being named all-district midfielder of the year last season as a junior.
Harker Heights Knights
Last season: 12-12, 8-6 12-5A, bi-district finalist
Outlook: Coming off consecutive playoff ousters in the bi-district round, the Knights believe they’re built for the long haul this season with a solid class of upperclassmen returning, including four senior starters and five total starters coming back. Highlighting that group will be brother duo Ethan and Austin Roden, with Austin manning the forward position, along with midfielder Chris Perez and junior center back Tristan Huber.
Player to watch: Ethan Roden, Sr. — The senior center midfielder has been a first-team all-district selection each of the last two years but now he faces a position change to take advantage of his versatility on both offense and defense.
Last season: 10-15-2, 8-4 34-4A, area finalist
Outlook: Killeen was outscored 7-0 in its final three matches of 2012, including a 2-0 bi-district loss to Waco High that was the team’s first first-round playoff loss since 2009. The Roos have a solid group of returning All-District 34-4A selections to help re-create their once-confident identity, including first-team selections Daniel Carrizales and Dominic Dungca. Juniors Selvin Delcid and Zach Mitchner were both second-team selections a year ago.
Player to watch: Dominic Dungca, Jr. — The speedy forward was a contributing receiver on the Roos’ football team and proved a capable scorer late in the season, though he’ll need to lead a more potent scoring attack this season if the Roos are to be successful in 8-5A.
Last season: 3-16-1, 2-10 34-4A
Outlook: Lampasas lost 16 games last season, and then the Badgers lost their head coach during the offseason. Greg Porter’s departure to become an assistant at Copperas Cove ushers in a new era for Lampasas. Ryan Race takes over the program and has his sights focused on guiding the team to the playoffs. A former Austin Westlake standout, Race played collegiately for Clark University (Mass.) and has plans to install all-new offensive and defensive schemes to accentuate the Badgers’ strengths after consistently struggling in both phases of the game last season.
Player to watch: Nick Lawson, Soph. — By the end of his first high-school season, Lawson found himself listed among the district’s elite by landing on the all-district first team. This season, Lawson, who was named the team’s offensive MVP, could thrive as the Badgers look to alter their offensive approach.
Last season: 14-11, 9-3 34-4A, area finalist
Outlook: In their first season, the Eagles stormed onto the district scene and shocked much of the state with a 34-4A runner-up finish and an area-round appearance before falling to Jacksonville 3-0. And despite a program that is 2A in every other sport, Salado believes it has just the mix of experience and youth with 13 returners from last season to be an even bigger surprise this season, and maybe win a district title.
Player to watch: Chase Crenwelge, Jr. — The District 34-4A Newcomer of the Year came on and helped carry the youthful Eagles into the playoffs and will be counted on to pick up his game even ten-fold in Year 2.
Shoemaker Grey Wolves
Last season: 1-11-2 12-5A
Outlook: It was a mostly forgettable season for the Grey Wolves last season, all except their final two matches. Shoemaker earned its first District 12-5A win with a 4-3 win over Copperas Cove before finishing the season with a 1-1 tie against Ellison. The Grey Wolves return all-district second-team selection Joshua Lichtenwalner and junior honorable mention James Ford to lead a team looking to build on 2012’s season-ending progress.
Player to watch: Joshua Lichtenwalner, Sr. — The defender was an All-District 12-5A second-team selection, but will have his hands full against the District 8-5A powers if the Grey Wolves can’t capitalize on their team speed on offense.
Last season: 7-14-4, 4-8-2 12-5A
Outlook: If last season’s fifth-place finish in District 12-5A wasn’t disappointing enough, the Wildcats’ four all-district first- and second-team selections were all seniors. On the bright side, Temple does return two honorable mention midfielders — Cruz Martinez and Diego Guarjardo — who were both only sophomores last year playing a district’s whose four playoff teams were senior-heavy.
Contact Nick Talbot at email@example.com or (254) 501-7569