Before the season began, Diamond Hill-Jarvis boys soccer coach Dan Russell was hoping his team was good enough to make the playoffs.
The Eagles graduated 15 seniors from a team that won a district title and went three rounds deep in the playoffs in 2012.
With only three returning, DHJ is 13-3 overall and 1-0 in District 14-4A. The coach now expects the Eagles to contend for a second consecutive district championship.
"It's been fantastic for us," Russell said of the team's nondistrict success. "Most of them had no varsity experience at the beginning of the season. We've been using the time to build and build and build and actually start to get the flow of the game properly.
"It's taken us 15 games, but we're just now getting to the point that we are playing pretty solid soccer."
In fact, Russell worries that too much success may have come too soon.
"I think they have a little bit of overconfidence now," he admitted. "I think it causes them to make some silly mistakes."
One thing that will help the Eagles is if potent scoring threat Nestor Martinez can get healthy again. After scoring 37 goals in 26 games, Martinez had 16 goals in 12 games before dealing with injury.
"He's a great leader and skill player on our team," Russell said.
Sam Houston's time?
For the past three seasons, the Arlington Sam Houston boys have finished second in their district. For 16 returning seniors, this is their last chance to finally win that elusive district title.
"We've had some really good teams, it just didn't happen for us," coach Joey Rodriguez said. "It's a big reason why these guys are real focused."
All that experience is why Rodriguez thinks this group can be the one to break the dry spell.
"We've got 16 seniors on our squad that came back from last year and they've all played in some really big games," he said. "Just having that experience coming back has enabled us to get off to a fast start."
The Texans are 4-0 in District 3-5A and 10-3-2 overall. One of the big reasons is goalkeeper and team captain Oscar Rodriguez. He's a four-year starter, and Joey Rodriguez calls him "the catalyst to everything."
"You've got to play good defense if you want to win games," Joey Rodriguez said, "And he's one of the reason we can win so many games this year."
Carroll's moving force
Last season, Michael Friedman was a forward for Southlake Carroll, playing primarily off the bench. This season he has yet to see the bench, but it's because he's become a stalwart of the Dragons' defense.
Carroll (12-1-3, 4-0-1 District 4-5A) lost several key defenders to graduation after last season, and when asked to make a move for the team, Friedman agreed.
"At the beginning I wasn't really sure about it, but my coaches and the other defenders really trained me and welcomed me and encouraged me," he said. "So, it's been a really smooth transition. I enjoy it a lot more than I did playing forward last year."
Friedman and his backline teammates have posted 11 shutouts.
"We are the backbone," he said. "We take tremendous pride in being the foundation for our team's success."
Dragons coach Greg Oglesby couldn't be more pleased with Friedman's transition.
"He's just had a tremendous season for us; he's really helped shore up our defense," Oglesby said. "He has a tremendous attitude and he just wants to play. He's one of those kids that's like, 'Just get me on the field, I don't care where it is.'
"He takes a lot of pride in his teammates and our school. He's relishes the fact that he can represent us on Tuesday and Friday."
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