The bus ride back from Georgetown last weekend was not filled with lively talk or excitement. Nor was the bus filled.
Playing an emotional Class 4A state semifinal left Byron Nelson’s girls soccer team drained and dejected. A 2-1 loss to Austin Vandergrift in a shootout (5-3) last Friday at Georgetown ISD’s Birkelbach Field denied them of their goal of trying to earn their first state title.
“Shootouts can go either way,” head coach Philip Salyer said. “We were just on the other end of it unfortunately. Both teams were evenly matched and played very hard. It’s definitely how you want the game to be played. We just came up a little short.”
Nelson took the lead early in the second half on an Alexis Smith goal. Smith wound up scoring the last three regulation goals for the Lady Bobcats this year. However, Vandergrift answered with about 20 minutes to play.
Salyer felt like his team had the better of the play through the two 10-minute overtime periods. Two shots struck the Vandergrift post or just missed crossing the goal line. Allie Rivers had a long range shot hit the post. Ansley Bunger looked to have the game-winner when she beat the Vandergrift goalie. But an alert defender managed to sweep in and clear the ball before it hit the line.
Injuries had been a part of this team all season. Salyer said forward Madison Hall had been bothered by a knee injury throughout the season but managed to play through it. Friday’s hot and humid conditions only added to her issues as she dealt with cramping.
Nelson finished its season at 22-3-5. Vandergrift wound up winning the state championship as it defeated Wylie East, 1-0, in Saturday’s championship.
“It’s not a conversation I wanted to have with them because you could see how devastated they were,” Salyer said. “They take pride in their school. We had a great student section there. What I didn’t want them to feel was that this game diminished what they did all season.”
Indeed, the Lady Bobcats made their second appearance in the Class 4A tournament in the last three years. This team also found a way to get to Georgetown despite not being a prolific scoring team.
But because the boys team was also there, some players stayed behind to watch it win its semifinal game late Friday and then win the 4A state title on Saturday.
Making the move
Of course, Byron Nelson moves up to Class 6A (formerly 5A) beginning this fall. That means this program will take a major step up in terms of competition and fighting for a playoff spot.
Salyer started to make the transition this season by playing non-district matches against 2013 Class 5A champion Plano West, Keller Timber Creek and Southlake Carroll.
For his non-district 2015 schedule, he wants to stay in the Fort Worth Nolan tournament but would like to move into the 6A bracket. He also wants to find a second tournament. Salyer said he plans on dropping his tournament because it featured only 4A teams. He said he’d like to play in Central Texas. He’ll need one non-district game. But he’ll have a talented team led by Smith, Katina Tsapos and Bunger.
But getting through the playoffs will be daunting. If Nelson were to qualify for the 6A postseason field, the bi-district round features the two finalists for the 2014 5A title, Hebron and Plano West.
“It’s going to be a new challenge,” Salyer said. “It should be interesting to see how our young players react to it.”