The Mansfield boys soccer team’s season ended at the hands of reigning state champion Coppell in the area round of the playoffs last Thursday. And while the 4-0 defeat to the Cowboys was disappointing, the Tigers can take plenty of positives from the 2014 campaign.
“I thought our guys came out and gave it everything they got and worked really, really hard. We just got beat by a better team,” head coach John Fazekas said. “I told them over and over again that when it’s all said and done, be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
Coppell, the No. 1 team in Texas according to most polls, tallied three goals in the first half to take charge.
“We started a little flat and got down early, but I was really proud with how we played in the second half,” team co-captain Nathan McBride said. “I thought that we honestly won the second half.”
The Tigers advanced to the area round after a valiant effort in their bi-district match with Belton. Following an early goal to take the lead, Mansfield was issued a red card and forced to play the remainder of the game a man down. The Tigers still managed to grind out a 3-2 shootout victory.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” McBride said. “We knew we were the better team and it was just up to each of us individually to fight and win every one of those individual battles and we did. And our goalie came up big in the PKs. Just winning that game meant a lot to everyone.”
It also meant a lot to the team to return to the postseason. Mansfield has a proud soccer history, including a trip to the state tournament just two years ago. But last year, the Tigers missed the playoffs altogether.
McBride, who was part of those last three seasons, felt their 2012 success may have fostered some bad habits within the program.
“Last year I think we got a little too cocky,” he said. “This year we got back to being a team again.”
The Tigers actually stumbled out the gate in district play, losing their first two matches. The team was a little inconsistent for a stretch before finding its stride as the Tigers wrapped up their first run through the district schedule. Following a Valentine’s Day draw with Grand Prairie, Mansfield went on a six-game winning streak in which it outscored opponents 21-4.
“We were able to pour in a bunch of goals to help build a lot of confidence for us going into the second round,” Fazekas said. “Once we felt comfortable and confident with ourselves, our level of play really came forward and guys started feeling positive and from that point forward, we battled every single team the second half of district.”
“After we played Grand Prairie there were a couple of games in which we played extremely well and our chemistry just exploded,” McBride added. “The second half of the season, we had a lot more confidence and we were playing together as a team rather than just as a bunch of individuals just running around.”
Fazekas credits his senior leadership with pulling this team along, especially captains McBride, Ben Bennett and Preston Freisner.
“They really started pushing the guys and emphasizing the fact that we need to get together and play as a team, and everyone bought into it,” Fazekas commented. “Their leadership was really big…I think that strong senior leadership really helped push us over the edge and into the playoffs.”
There were also significant contributions from a pair of newcomers this season. Freshman Nicko West got the call up this year and proved he deserved it.
“He came on and gave us a boost in the midfield and played quite a bit for us throughout the season, and that was a bit of a surprise for us because we usually don’t have a freshman come up to the varsity level very often,” Fazekas said. “We gave him a chance early on to see if he could handle the pressure and he was able to do that.”
Junior Kody Korleski also joined the team after previously playing club ball exclusively. Fazekas felt his strength and resolve really benefited the defense.
“I thought everyone really stepped it up toward the second half of district,” Fazekas said. “When we got into the playoffs, they weren’t ready for it to end. They pushed hard and we gave Belton everything we had and were fortunate enough to come out with a win there. We played hard against Coppell; we just ran into a team that was superior to us on that day, and who has been superior to everyone else.”