Girls soccer: Battling expectations

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David Minton/DRC
Guyer sophomore forward Brittany Crabtree, center, celebrates with her teammates Hannah Alspach, left, and Peyton Draper after scoring a goal against Birdville, Friday, April 5, 2013, at Northwest ISD Stadium in Justin, TX.

Guyer continues playoff run today against Canyon Randall

Kenny Blevins has been in his fair share of playoff games in his 13 seasons of coaching girls high school soccer.

Prior to this season, each of those playoff games was equally fun.

This season, Blevins has Guyer in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and the first time in his three seasons atop the program, but so far he isn’t having much fun.

It’s not because Guyer isn’t winning — the Lady Wildcats have won four playoff games this year — but instead due to the immense pressure he and his team are under thanks to lofty expectations after a two-year stint in Class 5A that yielded no playoff appearances.

“I’m far from being satisfied,” Blevins said. “We’ve won four playoff games and I should be satisfied, but I’m not. I think every game is a blast for the kids, but for me, I’m not satisfied.”

While his players might be enjoying their postseason run, which continues tonight at Wichita Falls’ Memorial Stadium in the Class 4A Region I semifinals against Canyon Randall (19-2-3), the team that knocked Guyer out of the playoffs in the regional final in 2010, Blevins feels nothing but relief with each passing game.

He said he has seen too many times in his career when an inferior team knocked a better opponent out of the playoffs, and with the expectations of his school and the community weighing on the program, all he can do is let out a big breath with each win.

“At Keller Fossil Ridge [where Blevins coached before Guyer], when we made the playoffs every single game was fun,” he said. “This year, for me, it’s just been the mindset of ‘we have to win this game.’

“We really took a big step last year [missing the 5A playoffs by one point], and going from 5A to 4A there’s a lot more expectations from everybody — the principal, the athletic director, the kids, the parents, and even for myself.”

So far, so good for Guyer (24-1), the No. 3 team in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A poll, which has won its last two playoff games in shutout fashion and has won its four postseason games by a combined score of 15-3 after rolling through District 11-4A with a 10-0 record for the district championship.

The Lady Wildcats’ only loss came Jan. 26 when they lost 4-1 to Wylie East, making the last two-plus months a successful period for the team, to say the least.

That long stretch without losing could be perceived as a bad omen by some, but senior defender Megan Stokes said it has only added incentive to keep the streak alive with two more wins this weekend in Wichita Falls, which would punch the team’s ticket to next week’s state tournament in Georgetown.

“Having all those wins behind us helps us pick up more momentum,” said Stokes, a four-year starter who is the lone player remaining from the team that fell to Randall in the 2010 regional final. “It’s like we’ve come all this way, we’re not going to stop here.”

Leading the charge for Guyer has been the best duo of attacking players Blevins has coached.

Sophomore forward Brittany Crabtree leads the team with 34 goals, while Hannah Alspach, a junior forward who also has seen time in an attacking midfield role, has 20 goals and 14 assists.

“They’re true finishers. That’s the rarest breed, and we have two on the same team,” Blevins said. “As a team, you have to have one and you want to be developing another, but to have those two alpha finishers on one team at the same time for a couple of years in a row is fantastic to see.”

Crabtree, who led the team in goals and assists as a freshman, is often the beneficiary of long runs from Alspach, whom Crabtree called the team’s workhorse. She said she’s fortunate to have a teammate like Alspach up top with her.

“Hannah does a lot of the work,” Crabtree said with a laugh. “She’s the one that runs through people and knocks them on their butt. We just play really well up top together. We complement each other really well.”

To get revenge on Randall, a 17-time defending district champion, and get over the hump of its mystique in the girls soccer world, the Lady Wildcats will have to stop a dynamic scorer in her own right.

Randall is led by Lauren Piercy, who leads the team with 24 goals and is tied for the team lead with 14 assists. Kirsten Kerbo also has 14 assists and is second in goals with 11.

“They look a lot like us,” Blevins said. “They have two really dynamic midfielders and their main target player [Piercy] is going to be tough to keep from finding the net.”

Guyer has done a good job of jumping out to quick starts, having trailed only twice all season — once in the loss and once in the regular-season finale against Birdville, when it faced an early 1-0 deficit before winning 5-1.

If that trend continues this weekend, the Lady Wildcats will be even closer to their ultimate goal and Blevins might be able to finally show some jubilation.

“This year we came out and directly said anything less than a state-contending team was unacceptable,” Blevins said. “We’ve talked about this from the very beginning. We had one goal — not to make the playoffs, not to win district but to be a state contender.”

Blevins’ team got the memo.

“Throughout the whole year, we’ve kind of known we’d do well and expected to,” Crabtree said. “Our team is just exceptionally good. We always had that mentality that we were going to go to state.”

 


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