A year ago, Castleberry High School didn’t have a varsity soccer program. Now, it has a district title.
The Lions are off to the UIL playoffs as unlikely champions of District 7-4A in their first-ever season. The girls team also qualified for the postseason as third-place finishers. Now, both teams hope to continue making history in what sometimes seems straight from a Hollywood script.
“It’s almost like a Walt Disney movie,” boys coach Tim Van Etten said.
It’s by pure coincidence that Van Etten has played a major role in this story. He arrived at Castleberry Middle School four years ago as a last-minute replacement for a teacher-coach who had left. Around the same time, the seeds had been sewn to start a soccer program in the district.
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“I walked into the office one day and the athletic director said, ‘We’re starting a soccer program, you know anybody who’s a soccer coach?’ Next thing you know, I’m coaching the boys and girls teams.”
Van Etten had been around the sport for years, as had many of the players who came to open tryouts. But the collective group reminded him of another movie.
“It was like that scene from ‘The Replacements,” Van Etten recalled. “This unusual group of people showed up.”
Some 30 boys and 25 girls were whittled down into teams that would compete last season as JV squads – with Van Etten coaching both. Having no established schedule, the coach took out a map and started mass emailing local schools looking for games. He finally cobbled together a 20-game schedule ranging from 6A programs to charter schools. And then it was time to actually play.
“You know what you want to do, but then when you get there it’s nothing like you expected,” Van Etten said. “They did not play well together initially.”
Not surprisingly, the teams took their lumps. But, that failed to stem enthusiasm.
“These kids had such a huge desire to play the game that, I hate to say it, but they didn’t even really care if they won or lost, they just wanted to play,” he added.
Joining the UIL as a Class 4A program this season, Castleberry again held tryouts. This time 60 boys and more than 30 girls (now coached by Leo Vasquez) showed up. By the time district play got rolling, the Lions started to sense they had something brewing.
“They were astonished when they saw how good Diamond Hill-Jarvis is, and as good as they were, these kids scored a last-minute goal to beat them,” Van Etten said. “I think then, in game two [of district], they thought, ‘We might can do this.’”
The Lions lost just once more this season, compiling a 15-7-1 overall record and 9-1 in district. Success for both teams has permeated through the halls of the school, evidenced by Mitzy Guereca’s selection as dfwVarsity.com Girls Player of the Week this week.
“In every class, kids were talking about, ‘Hey have you voted on Twitter yet?’” Van Etten said.
The boys team faces Life Waxahachie in the bi-district round Thursday at 7:30 p.m., while the girls team meets Alvarado on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“They’re exciting to watch,” Van Etten said. “They don’t really know what they’re doing, but they’re doing it.”
Teams to watch
Sam Houston (15-2-2): The Texans have seven playoff wins over the past two seasons and are looking for a return trip to the state tournament after getting there in 2015. They have a tricky Class 6A bi-district matchup with Keller Central to start the postseason.
Birdville (20-2-2): The Hawks ran through District 8-5A undefeated and haven’t lost a game since Jan. 20 against Fort Worth South Hills.
South Hills (17-4-1): Swept nemesis North Side this season en route to the 7-5A district title. Can the Scorpions be the next Fort Worth ISD school to reach the regional tournament?
Summit (10-8-4): The Jaguars battled injuries most of the season, and a fully healthy club might be much better than its record and fourth-place seeding.
Bowie (10-8): In the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the surprising Vols beat Sam Houston twice this season.
Kennedale (18-0-1): The two-time defending 4A champs picked up right where they left off last season, despite graduating some significant pieces. The Wildcats haven’t lost a game in 14 months.
Grapevine (16-3): State runner-up last season in 5A, can the Mustangs ride back to Georgetown this season to finish the job?
Carroll (17-1-2): The Dragons were stunned in the 2016 area round, the perennial power has its sights set on a much deeper run this postseason.
Mansfield (17-2-1): The Tigers are the top seed from District 4-6A after finishing level on points with Arlington Martin. Allowed only six goals in 14 district games.
Keller (17-2-2): Great regular seasons haven’t turned into extended playoff success for the Indians. Can this be the season they change that? Keller reached the regional semifinals in 2014.