The Trophy Club Nelson girls soccer team posted 27 wins last season and only three losses — all of which were to state champion and District 11-4A rival Denton Guyer.The Bobcats themselves are two seasons removed from playing in a state championship game.But this may be a different kind of season for Nelson, having graduated eight seniors from last year’s regional finalist squad.“We will be a younger team, but I hope to still be competitive,” said coach Philip Salyer, whose team begins the 2014 UIL soccer season Thursday at Fort Worth Nolan Catholic’s National Elite Prep Showcase tournament.Luckily for Salyer, he has a four-year letterman to whom he can turn to help him guide this season’s Bobcats on the field.Defender Allie Rivers, who has committed to play soccer at Oklahoma State next year, was a first-team All-State selection and Defensive Player of the Year in District 11-4A last season. She knows that matching Nelson’s recent success isn’t a given in 2014.“It’s definitely different than it has been in the past, but I actually enjoy it, because it’s like starting new and being a leader for a lot of new faces,” Rivers said. “It’s sort of like we’re building our own program again.”Having watched Rivers for three years, Salyer isn’t surprised to see the player she has become.“She’s very highly looked upon by her teammates and the coaches,” he said. “Her work ethic and determination is what sets her apart. She is definitely a hard worker and has been a big impact in our program all four years.”While defenders usually get overshadowed by the goal scorers in soccer, Salyer points out that just because Rivers’ position says defense doesn’t mean she isn’t important to the offense.“The defense is where we start our attack, so even though she’s a defender, she’s where we start the attack,” he explained. “She’s very skillful, so she’s not only a good defender, but she wins the ball and makes great passes to get our attack going. “If we take her off the field, we lose not just on the defensive side, we lose offensively as well because you need to have that player that gets the attack started, and she definitely does that. She’s big on both sides of the field.”Rivers scored four times last season from the back line, but also understands that her first objective is to shut down opponents.“I just kind of go into it with the mindset that nobody is going to get past me,” she said. “If you play the game that way, I think you’ll be more successful.”While success seemed more certain last season for Nelson, Rivers warns that teams had better not sleep on these younger Bobcats.“I think we’ll do well,” she said. “This year will be more of a surprise. We don’t really know how far we’re going to go or what will happen, but we’ll go into every game taking it a game at a time. “I think we’ll make our statement in the playoffs.”Girls to watch GK Taylor Sisson, Jr., Fort Worth Paschal: Started in net since she was a freshman, named Goalkeeper of the Year in District 3-5A last season, allowed only six goals in 12 games. D McKayla Paulson, Sr., Mansfield: Named the District 7-5A Player of the Year, she’s a versatile player that will direct the midfield for the Tigers this season. M/D Tori Bowman, Sr., Grapevine: Committed to Oklahoma, she helped the Mustangs keep 11 shutouts in their undefeated District 6-5A campaign, adding 12 goals and six assists; named District 6-5A MVP. F Esmeralda Gonzales, Soph., Fort Worth South Hills: Last season’s Star-Telegram Super Team Player of the Year as a freshman. Scored 71 goals with 18 assists in the regular season, leading the Scorpions to the District 13-4A title. F Grace Cory, Soph., Southlake Carroll: Was second-leading goal scorer for state runners-up last season as a freshman with 17 in 30 games. Also added six assists.Girls teams to watch Fort Worth South Hills (22-4-2): Led by the trio of Gonzales sisters, the Scorpions lost only two seniors from last season and are heavy favorites to repeat as district champions. The goal now is an extended playoff run. Grapevine (19-5-4): The Mustangs were undefeated champions of District 6-5A last season and reached the regional quarterfinals. They return most of that squad, highlighted by Star-Telegram Super Teamer Tori Bowman. Keller Timber Creek (19-6-3): The Lady Falcons have never missed the playoffs in their three-year history. They return eight players from last year’s squad that reached the regional quarterfinals, where it lost to Southlake Carroll. Mansfield (22-4): A senior-laden team with 17 returning players from last year’s District 7-5A champions. This experienced team has chemistry, a solid defense and high expectations. Southlake Carroll (30-3): A perennial playoff team, the Dragons lost in the state final last season. Their top scorer is gone, but there is always an infusion of young talent waiting in Southlake. A return to the state tournament may be asking a lot, but a deep playoff run is always expected.Boys to watch GK John McGuffin, Sr., Birdville: A three-year starter in net for the Hawks, posted 10 shutouts to lead the Hawks to the 4A regional semifinals. D Logan Webb, Sr., Southlake Carroll: The only returning defender from the Dragons’ run to the regional semifinals last season will be counted on to bring along a young back line. M Chase Lankford, Jr., Mansfield: Was named the 7-5A Midfielder MVP as a sophomore last season. Primarily an assist expert, he will be expected to score more goals this year. M Gabriel Hernandez, Sr., Burleson Centennial: From his central midfield position, has scored 18 goals with eight assists over two seasons at the varsity level; was first-team all-district selection in 2013. F Reggie Gonzalez, Sr., Arlington High: A four-year letterman, he scored 19 goals with nine assists last season as a first-team all-district performer.Boys teams to watch Birdville (18-5-6): Lost only four players to graduation and returns a wealth of experience from a team that advanced to the regional semifinals. Sophomore Jacob Rangel looks to improve on his freshman campaign of 10 goals and eight assists. Burleson Centennial (22-4-3): In three years as a school, the Spartans have 46 wins to just 13 losses and 13 draws. It’s the first time the program has had to deal with a graduating class, but there’s still plenty of experience to guide an injection of youthful talent. Fort Worth South Hills (16-4-4): Scorpions return most of their top talent from last season’s District 13-4A championship team, which was bounced from the playoffs in the area round by Mansfield Lake Ridge. Granbury (21-4-5): Pirates lost their top scorer from last year’s team that went undefeated en route to a district title, but have some up-and-comers joining the varsity squad, including two talented freshmen. Mansfield Lake Ridge (10-7-6): Went three rounds deep into the playoffs as a first-year program last year. The Eagles lost only three seniors from that squad.
Thursday: UIL soccer season begins
Jan. 28-Feb. 4: District season begins
March 24: Playoffs begin
April 17-19: State tournament in Georgetown