Last season, the Trophy Club Byron Nelson girls soccer team came as close to winning a state title as possible without doing it, losing to Highland Park in a shootout of the championship game.
It was a bitter loss that serves as fuel for another Bobcats run.
"We definitely use it to motivate us, definitely," said senior Marchelle Davis, who was an important part of last year's success. "Even when we're in the weight room, it's like, 'Guys you have to finish your reps, this is how we get to state, this is what we have to do to be able to accomplish what we want to.'"
The Bobcats graduated seven from last year's state runner-up squad, including a goalkeeper and a pair of key defensive players. But coach Philip Salyer is confident youngsters such as freshman Katina Tsapos can fill those voids.
It helps the defense that the Nelson offense will again be one of the most feared in Texas, having returned most of its midfield and all its forwards.
The Bobcats gained another valuable asset when Madison Hall moved into the district. Hall was a Star-Telegram Super Team selection last season after scoring 26 goals as a sophomore at Birdville.
"She brings a lot of creativity and she's an offensive-minded player who can finish, and with her hard work ethic and aggressiveness she fits in well with our girls," Salyer said of Hall.
"We're very fortunate to have her."
Hall was disappointed upon learning she'd be leaving Birdville, but now wouldn't change a thing.
"It's been perfect for me," she said. "I've developed with this team so good. I've made good friends, I got a clean start... it's like we've been friends forever."
Cohesiveness is a key component of Nelson's success. While the talent is there, players and coaches feel like there's something extra that allows that talent to thrive.
"We've spent a lot of time together," Davis said. "During these out-of-town tournaments we've definitely bonded as a group.
"We all have the same mentality and I think that helps us bond with a common goal."
Salyer agrees that it takes more than talent to be a champion, and he thinks this squad has it.
"They're definitely a talented group," he said. "But I think the key is that they fight extremely hard for each other and they enjoy spending time together not only on the field but off, and that definitely plays into their ability on the field."
The recipe has worked so far this season.
The Bobcats stormed through their nondistrict schedule, going 13-0-1 while surrendering just six goals. Salyer hopes their nondistrict slate has them prepared for the challenge that will be District 11-4A.
With powerhouses such as Denton Guyer and Birdville, earning a district title may be almost as challenging as winning a state title, and this Nelson team knows how thin the line can be between winning and not winning a championship.
"In losing that game we saw how good we are and how good we can be," Davis said. "I feel like ever since we lost that game we've had this mentality that we want to go back and we want to win it. We don't prefer just to go there, we want to go and win a state championship. That's the mindset for us."
Salyer knows his team still thinks about the way last season ended, and it's part of his challenge to make sure it doesn't get in the way of this year's goals.
"I think it's in the back of their minds, but it's not something we talk about and use it to feed off of. I think it's a natural motivation for a lot of them, especially the seniors, and I know that's something in the back of their minds that they got so close. But we try to just focus on the game right in front of us."
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