The target has been on Belton's back for the last few years. But usually a scant few could even think of hitting the mark, let alone throwing a dagger into the bulls-eye.

However, both the boys and girls lost a District 12-5A game last season. And more than ever teams are starting to believe they can compete with the juggernaut that Belton has become.

A&M Consolidated defeated the girls 1-0 in their final game of district play last year and the Bryan boys pulled off the upset at home.

This season, others hope to get into the fold — especially Harker Heights, which returns a quartet of seniors led by captains Angel Pulido and Carlos Caucho and goalie Nick Meurtka.

"We were excited to get there, but it ended so quickly, I think there's a little frustration with these kids who are returning," Knights coach Jared Crudas said.

"I really think we have a good shot of making a run at the district title this year, but it's going to come down to finishing our chances, just like last year."

On the flip side, Belton has to handle its own and others' expectations. A task that is not always easy to fulfill. The two teams combined to go 43-3-3 and both were ranked by ESPN Rise.

The girls lost to eventual state champion McKinney Boyd, and still it wasn't enough to satisfy them.

"We've had some bad luck in draws — losing to the eventual state champion the last two years," said Belton senior Hadley Young. "But, we just have to play better. We could have beat them."

Last season: 21-2-1, 13-1 (1st seed, 12-5A)Outlook: As always, the Lady Tigers are loaded and expect to win the district and also make a lengthy playoff run. They return Hadley Young, who scored 41 goals last season and Jaime Boone who were both All-District 12-5A first-team selections in 2011.

Last season: 6-6-2, 12-9-2 (4th seed 12-5A)Outlook: Coming on late last season with a young and talented squad, the Lady Bulldawgs finally broke through and locked up the fourth playoff seed in the final game for its first postseason appearance since 2001. Despite graduating two college-bound talents (Kristen Grant and Shelby Campbell), Cove has the legs to make another playoff run.

Last season: 9-11-3, 5-9 12-5AOutlook: With its last playoff trip coming in 2005, the fifth place Lady Knights lost four starters, including all-area selection Arantza Trejo but return a talented group of youth, including a pair of sophomores who made big impacts a year ago in Alyssa Conde, last year's leading scorer with 10 goals.

Last season: 4-13, 1-9 34-4AOutlook: Shyann Waters, the Hornets' only all-district first team selection last season, returns to lead Gatesville in its third soccer season. Despite their record, the Hornets were in all but a few of their District 34-4A games and split with Killeen, the district's fourth-seed playoff team.

Last season: 5-15-3, 2-11-1 12-5AOutlook: Despite a solid group of returners last season, the Lady Knights regressed in the 12-5A standings, cutting their 2010 win total in half (from four to two). But as always, with a new season comes renewed hope as Heights tries to break through for its first playoff berth since 2006.

Last season: 8-12-6, 3-7 34-4AOutlook: The group of seniors that led the Lady Roos to not only their first playoff appearance in two years but also a first-round upset of District 33-4A champion Waco University is now graduated. Killeen has to reload fast because a 34-4A playoff spot may not be as easy to come by this season.

Last season: 2-12-1, 2-8 34-4AOutlook: The Lady Badgers hope to cash in on last year's youth. Lampasas, led by District 34-4A co-defensive player of the year Megan Mason, returns five all-district players, including two freshmen first-team selections (Sierra Rash and Bailey Hilgenberg).

Last season: 0-0 (First year of program)Outlook: Much like the boys, the Lady Eagles are a new program. But with six seniors, including a quartet of midfielders in Chelsea Boaz, Lorna Payne, Casey Weathersbee and Morgan Daniels, the Lady Eagles will try to establish an identity on the run.

Last season: 1-20-1, 0-14 12-5AOutlook: With four of five returning starters on the defensive end, Shoemaker will look to slow down opposing teams to playing the Lady Grey Wolves' tempo and allow standout sophomore striker Madie Woodard an opportunity to give her team a chance to win some matches this season.


Last season: 21-1-2, 13-1 12-5A (1st seed, 12-5A)Outlook: The Tigers expect to win the district every year. And once again they should be favored to do so as they return a host of talent, including captains Luke Villamaria, Logan Hellinghausen and goalkeeper Carlo Mosnia.

Last season: 8-14-2, 2-11-1 12-5AOutlook: Struggling through a two-win run through 12-5A, the Bulldawgs are simply hoping to show steady improvement in head coach Michael Epley's second season. With 12 seniors, and seven total returners, a more experienced Cove will depend on the versatility of senior Sebastian Baxter, a four-year starter who will see time at striker and in goal this year.

Last season: 9-12-2, 4-8-2 12-5AOutlook: A decade since their last playoff appearance (2001), the Eagles are counting on the experience of 10 seniors to get back following a sixth-place finish a year ago. Returning a majority of last year's varsity, Ellison will depend on All-District first teamers Garrett Strickland and Will Turner with sophomore Nathan Diederich on the shelf for a month.

Last season: (2-19-1, 1-9 34-4A)Outlook: Sebastian Corrales and Franco Vega were the Hornets' only two all-district first-team selections last season and they were both only sophomores then. As juniors, the duo hope to give Gatesville an edge in a four-team race with Lampasas, Lorena and Robinson for the final two playoff spots.

Last season: 14-9-1, 9-5 12-5A (Tied for 3rd)Outlook: Closing out the regular season winning its final four games, the Knights made it back to the postseason after barely missing out the year before. And with a large contingent returning, including four key seniors, Heights coach Jared Cruddas has his eyes set even higher this year.

Last season: 16-8-3, 9-1 34-4AOutlook: The Roos will be looking for a fifth straight playoff appearance and despite the loss of a handful of standout seniors, expect to be competing again with Waco Midway for the District 34-4A championship. Killeen, which was one of just two teams to beat Midway a year ago, returns four of its eight 2011 all-district first-team selections.

Last season: 2-16-1, 1-9 34-4AOutlook: Led by second team all-district Josue Garcia, the Badgers hope to win some of the close district games that got away from them last year. Lampasas lost winnable games to playoff teams Robinson (twice) and Lorena and split with Gatesville. But it'll also have to find a replacement for last year's co-defensive player of the year, Chris Sanders.

Last season: 0-0 (First year)Outlook: In the first year of the program, the Eagles are very young and highly inexperienced on the varsity level. But with a load of talented juniors, including midfielder Pablo Castelan —who scored five goals in a scrimmage of Waco Connally on Friday — Salado could surprise people in District 34-4A.

Last season: 0-13-1 12-5AOutlook: Led by captains Michael Volanos and Joshua Lichtenwalner and Panama move-in James Ford, the Grey Wolves hope changes in game plans, schemes and player positioning could signal a turnaround after an all-around disappointing season last year.

Marvin Henderson & Jordan Kappa, Killeen

The two senior defenders were District 34-4A all-district first teamers a year ago and will be counted on to fill in a leadership void left by a bevy of graduated standouts.

Logan Hellinghausen, Belton

It won't matter how many goals the Tigers score if they can't stop anyone. That task will fall to senior captain Hellinghausen, who was a 12-5A all-district first-team selection last season at fullback.

Megan Mason, Lampasas

The senior was District 34-4A's co-defensive player of the year last season for a Badgers team that was building for this season and the future.

Mike McNamara, Harker Heights

Like his team, McNamara really emerged late last season, coming off the bench to score three game-winning goals during the Knights' four-game winning streak to end the season and secure 12-5A's final playoff seed.

Nicholas Meurtka, Harker Heights

A move-in from Virginia, Meurtka made an immediate impact for Heights, setting school records for single-game (16) and season saves (58) and was the Daily Herald's All-Area first-team goalkeeper.

Alyson Sinclair, Copperas Cove

Despite battles with asthma, a matured Sinclair made arguably the biggest impact during Cove's stretch run to the playoffs, notching three key goals in season-ending wins over Shoemaker and Harker Heights.

Luke Villamaria, Belton

The Tigers' senior captain was a first-team 12-5A selection last season as a midfielder and forward and will be counted on to fill the scoring void left by Tayron Martin, who was the 12-5A MVP last season with 25 goals.

Hadley Young, Belton

The senior forward set a single-season record for Belton last year with 41 goals and added 11 assists as she became the go-to player for the Lady Tigers when Jourdan Brown went out with an ACL injury.

Harker Heights boys at Killeen, Jan. 19: The two playoff teams meet at Leo Buckley Stadium for a game that will be a district game next season.

Harker Heights boys at Ellison, Feb. 9: The Knights are a playoff team, the Eagles want to be. If Ellison is going to make a run, the Eagles have to go through Harker Heights.

Bryan boys at Harker Heights, Feb. 17: The two schools split last season and allowed the Knights to get into the playoffs. Heights will have to do it again to make a return trip.

Waco Midway boys at Killeen, Feb. 24: Midway is the toast of District 34-4A, but the Roos would like to knock them off their perch.

A&M Consolidated boys at Belton, Feb. 24: The two seem to battle for the 12-5A title every year. This one won't be any different.

Ellison girls at Copperas Cove, March 5: Cove made the playoffs last season but the Lady Eagles were on its heels. Expect the same this season.

Killeen boys at Lampasas, March 13: Lampasas has been making strides in its program and a win over the Roos would signal the Badgers belong.

A&M Consolidated girls at Belton, March 27: The only loss the girls suffered in district play last season was to Consolidated. They will be looking for revenge.

Tournaments: Centex Girls Shootout (Killeen ISD Schools), Jan. 13-14Harker Heights boys tournament, Jan. 19-20

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