COPPERAS COVE — Hagen Streckel has wanted to test his team’s mental mettle.
In the championship match of the Lady Dawgs Classic, his wish was granted.
The Copperas Cove Lady Bulldawgs were up to their ears in adversity Saturday afternoon, entering their own tournament final shorthanded a pair of starters against an explosive Smithson Valley squad.
Things only got more difficult for Copperas Cove once the match began as players endured illness and suffered injuries en route to a 3-1 loss at Bulldawg Stadium.
“For us, it was definitely a building block, and a lot of our younger players, mainly (sophomore forward) Courtney Everette, just really played outside of herself,” Streckel said. “Those kinds of things, you don’t see unless they are forced into a position where you have to put some players in situations where you really don’t know how they’ll react.
“Today was a big step for some of our players.”
Unfortunately, a key player took a step backward. Two minutes after Smithson Valley recorded the match’s initial goal with 11:20 remaining in the first half, Copperas Cove junior midfielder and team captain Shelbie Letzer injured her left leg. She was helped to sideline and did not return to the match after being bandaged from knee to ankle and outfitted with a pair of crutches. Streckel declined to speculate on the extent of Letzer’s injury, but it clearly affected the team mentally and strategically.
“That was terrible,” Copperas Cove forward Genesis Rivera said. “That is one of our best players, our best player actually, so it was really scary when she went out.”
With sophomore forward Angelica Ramos and sophomore midfielder Amanda Arrisola already missing from the starting lineup, the Lady Bulldawgs (5-2 overall) were in for an uphill battle from the opening kickoff. Then, senior Jasmine Everette was forced from the match after becoming ill, but nausea was not enough to prevent her from playing.
“She and her sister were both sick,” Streckel said, “but she played the whole game. She’d go out, then come out and puke in the trash can and keep on going. As far as courage wise and heart, as a whole team, it has been magnificent to be around.”
Thanks in part to goalkeeper Alex Johnson’s nine first-half saves, the Lady Bulldawgs entered halftime trailing by only 1-0. But 90 seconds into the second half, the deficit doubled as Smithson Valley junior Tori Snoddy scored on an assist from Katelyn Fouse.
With the Lady Bulldawgs’ offensive unit depleted, Smithson Valley dominated the possession battle and produced 13 shots in the first half before finishing with 21.
“At first, you kind of get your adrenaline pumping, and it is real fun,” Johnson said of the Rangers’ continuous assault. “Then, it starts to get a little scary once you start seeing how much they are attacking.”
The Rangers extended their advantage to 3-0 with 11:17 remaining in the match. Copperas Cove’s lone goal occurred during the match’s final minutes, when Rivera took advantage of a breakaway scoring opportunity after Smithson Valley’s defenders stopped playing.
“I saw that she stopped going for it, but I didn’t hear a whistle, so I wasn’t going to stop,” Rivera said. “I just went for it, and it was a goal.”
Harker Heights beats Ellison to finish third
Alex Gay made the most of her starting opportunity.
The Harker Heights sophomore, who typically plays as a midfield defender, was unexpectedly thrust into a forward position and excelled as the Lady Knights beat district rival Ellison 3-1 to claim third place at the Lady Dawgs Classic.
Gay finished with all three goals and quite possibly a new position.
“It was a last-second decision to put her up top, and she just kept firing away,” Harker Heights coach Royce Mitchel said. “She took about five or six shots, scored three of them, and all of them were on target, so I can’t complain about that. I may have found a new forward.”
Three minutes into the match, Gay recorded her first goal, and the 1-0 score held until she repeated the feat early in the second half. Approximately five minutes later, Gay struck again to put Harker Heights (5-2) ahead 3-0, and the Lady Knights cruised to victory. Natalie Requenez, Racquelle Requenez and Kaylee Kellam each tallied an assist in the win.
Cameron Yoe was forced to forfeit its fifth-place match against Shoemaker because it did not have enough players to field a team.
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com