Consistency, talent and depth have defined Byron Nelson’s girls soccer program. The program has played in three consecutive Class 4A Region I championship games.
And for the second time in three years, the Lady Bobcats will be competing for a state championship in Georgetown. Byron Nelson used freshman – that’s right, freshman – midfielder Alexis Smith’s two goals to fight off Fort Worth Arlington Heights, 2-0, in last Saturday’s title contest at Wichita Falls’ Memorial Stadium.
“This is the ultimate goal,” Nelson coach Philip Salyer said. “We’re excited to be back. It’s also great that some of our seniors, who were there as sophomores, get another chance. This is definitely a different team. But this is a long journey to get down there.”
The UIL seeds these teams. Nelson (22-2-5) will play as the No. 2 seed and face Austin Vandegrift (17-3-2) in one 4A state semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday at Georgetown ISD’s Birkelbach Field. Wylie East (23-1-1) plays Friendswood (22-4-3) in the other semifinal. The girls state championship is set for 4 p.m.
Nelson didn’t get the anticipated rematch with Denton Guyer. But it faced a worthy Arlington Heights team that knocked off Guyer on the way to this regional championship game. Smith gave Guyer a 1-0 lead midway through the first half. A pass from Ansley Bunger freed Smith, who beat the Heights goalie.
The match stayed that way until late in the second half when the same combination of Bunger and Smith created the clincher on a fairly similar play as the first. There had been some familiarity between these two teams, because Nelson played Arlington Heights in the 2013 Region I quarterfinals.
“Arlington Heights was really good and you knew that already since they knocked off Guyer,” Salyer said. “They were so much better than what we saw last year. We had to work for this.”
Nelson’s defense has been nothing short of suffocating through the first six games of the postseason. The Lady Bobcats have allowed only two goals. That’s the main reason this team is traveling to Central Texas this week.
Birdville and Kennedale each scored one goal in the sectional and quarterfinal rounds. Nelson won each of those games 5-1. The Lady Bobcats threw shutouts against White Selttement Brewer (4-0), Gainesville (4-0), Lubbock Monterey (4-0) in the regional semifinal and against Arlington Heights. Nelson has outscored its opponents in the postseason 24-2.
“The defense was phenomenal the whole postseason,” Salyer said. “It’s taken commitment by everybody.”
Smith’s two goals may have come from out of nowhere, because few really knew what she was capable of doing. But Salyer made a lineup adjustment before the postseason started to give her a chance to be productive on the offensive end.
He moved Smith from center back to forward for two reasons. First, he could afford to when sophomore defensive stalwart Katina Tsapos returned from an injury and could play the back line. Second, he needed more offensive punch to complement Madison Hall. If Hall didn’t score, no one would score.
“I just thought Alexis could give us something with the way she controls the ball,” Salyer said. “It’s really paid off and she’s taken advantage.”