The Guyer girls soccer team is nine months removed from standing atop the Class 4A soccer world after ending a remarkable two-year run for Highland Park in a 2-1 win to claim the Lady Wildcats’ first state championship.
Now, Guyer is looking for an encore under some different circumstances and with some new faces.
“Since we have a lot of new people this year, it’s not as hard as it could be to forget about last year,” said senior Hannah Alspach, the state tournament MVP. “It’s a completely different team, it feels like to me. Yeah, we won state, but we’re really excited for this year to try to do it again.
“We’re all pretty nervous about the huge target on our back, but I think we’re ready to go out there and try to get another championship.”
Guyer, which lost just one game last season en route to ending Highland Park’s 49-game winning streak in the state final, begins its title defense today in the Arlington tournament against Arlington Lamar.
The Lady Wildcats have several luxuries for defending state champions, most notably two of the most dynamic scorers in the state in Alspach and junior Brittany Crabtree, who scored 24 and 40 goals, respectively. Alspach led the club with 18 assists last season and played in several roles.
Guyer is set in the goal with senior Mikayla Renfroe, who like Alspach is entering her fourth season as a starter. Renfroe could have 80 starts in net by the time the season ends.
But in front of Renfroe is where most of Guyer’s inexperience lies, as head coach Kenny Blevins lost three of his four starting backs, who along with Alspach and Crabtree up top were the team’s unquestioned strength last year. The only returner is Peyton Bucklew.
“I’m losing sleep over it,” Blevins said. “My opinion — it’s the most critical group. Your team starts from the back and works forward. We are fortunate to have Crabtree and Alspach up top, but getting that group organized is very key.”
That concern ties to Guyer’s dynamic scoring duo as well, as Blevins said a shaky defense will see Guyer’s scoring taper off after the Lady Wildcats averaged nearly four goals per game and outscored opponents 107-15 last year.
“I’ve gone into seasons before that I felt like we had a good attacking mentality and needed to shore up holes on the defense,” Blevins said. “If your goal is to outscore the competition, though, my experience is you’re going to fall way short of what you’re going to do.
“Unless you have a good, solid defense, there’s something about soccer — when you get scored on, it emboldens the other team and takes away from your team. Maybe you could’ve scored three goals if you got the first goal, but if the other team scores first you might not get any because people press.”
Aside from nailing down the back line before the team gets into district play, Blevins said his main objective is to see his team gain an edge again and to not rest on the laurels of a state title.
“I can scream and yell and swing from a chandelier and explain they have to let last year go and they nod their head and say they understand, but I don’t feel it yet,” Blevins said. “I feel there’s a softness we didn’t have last year. Last year they put the nail in the coffin of the competition. This year that edge isn’t there, and I think it’s because of the success. I think our biggest challenge this year is our success last year.”
Guyer boys inexperienced
The Guyer boys came close to upsetting state power Wichita Falls Rider in the second round of the playoffs last season, which could have set up a deep run for the Wildcats, one they grew accustomed to in their previous stint in Class 4A.
Now, coach Cody Schroeder is looking to get Guyer back to that quality when the Wildcats were making runs to the regional semifinals — on the doorstep of the state tournament.
But right now, Schroeder’s main priority is getting a relatively young, inexperienced group to jell and find an identity after losing three quality players and two of his best scorers a year ago to graduation.
“Every year presents new challenges, and even though we have some guys back, a lot of our roster is inexperienced,” Schroeder said. “They’ve worked real hard in training, and we had a good result Friday in our scrimmage. In the past we’ve had a good game, then a bad practice, then a bad game. We’ve been inconsistent, so hopefully this group will improve there even though we don’t have players like McKenna [Cook], Bryan [Jacinto] and Sean [Diamond] on this roster.”
One place the Wildcats, who finished 12-9-5 last season, aren’t inexperienced is at goalkeeper, even though it was a position by committee a year ago.
All three of those players who rotated in 2013 are back, but Schroeder has settled on Carlos Enriquez, at least for now.
Enriquez started Guyer’s two playoff games a year ago — a 4-2 win and a 1-0 loss.
“We’ll see where it goes, and hopefully instead of a question mark for us that’ll be a consistent factor to have someone who can make routine saves and not give up goals that cost us the opportunity to win games,” Schroeder said.
The Wildcats begin play today in Frisco’s Dr Pink tournament against Wichita Falls at Frisco Memorial Stadium.
“The success we’ve had in the past leads to high expectations,” Schroeder said. “We were accustomed to it, and we expect to compete in every game and give ourselves a chance. I think we have a chance to be successful, even though our district is very stout. Most of the other teams that made the playoffs are returning most of their key players. It’s going to be a really tough schedule. January will be spent finding the right pieces to the puzzle, and hopefully the pieces will come together for us in district.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.