Keller Citizen

Keller girls soccer overcame a lot of frustration to reach state

Rebecca Keane approached her coach this season to tell him that she and her teammates were aiming for a state championship this year.
Rebecca Keane approached her coach this season to tell him that she and her teammates were aiming for a state championship this year. Courtesy photo

If you’re Keller girls soccer coach Billy Griffiths, there’s no other way to describe what happened in the 2015 and 2016 playoff appearances but redundant.

In 2015, Keller lost to Lewisville Hebron in the bi-district round, 1-0, on a penalty kick.

In 2016, keeper Mason Rodusky was not available to play in the bi-district playoff against Plano due to an injury. Griffiths learned that shortly before the match. Keller lost, 5-2.

So Keller’s journey to the Class 6A state tournament this Friday in Georgetown is a matter of good fortune and quality play. The Lady Indians (22-2-2) are making their inaugural appearance. They meet Pflugerville Hendrickson (17-4-4) in one semifinal at 9:30 a.m. Birkelbach Field. Keller defeated Carroll, 2-0, in the Region I title match this past Saturday at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland.

Austin Vandergrift (19-1-4) meets Katy Tompson (18-4-3) in the second semifinal at noon. The championship game is at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“The girls focused at the right time,” Griffiths said. “We had a really good district season. We knew the district was not as strong and that was a worry of ours. But they were able to build on that energy when the playoffs started.”

This program had tasted the regional tournament in 2014 when it was eliminated in the semifinals. But there is some redemption for the likes of senior defender Carly Murray, senior forward Brooklin Blair, senior forward A.K. Ward and senior forward/midfielder Gabriella Coleman.

Griffiths kept the goals simple and realistic when the season began. While the roster features 13 seniors, he didn’t want to get too ambitious. He wanted this program to win a playoff game and then push toward the regional tournament.

But senior midfielder Rebecca Keane decided it was time to aim higher. She approached Griffiths during the middle of the district season with a suggestion.

“She told me and said they were going to state,” Griffiths said. “So I said, OK, that’s fine, if that’s how they want to think about it.”

Fittingly, punching through two established soccer programs in Midland made this appearance satisfying. Half of the regional tournament featured two established programs from soccer-heavy District 5-6A, Carroll and Flower Mound Marcus.

Keller outscored its two opponents, 4-0. The Lady Indians had to adapt to different styles. Marcus was more of a direct pushing team. Carroll likes to concentrate a lot of its offense in the midfield area.

The other component was not only winning the 50-50 balls but then working through the sequence with a series of passes that would extend possessions. Frustration from the opposition followed.

“Scoring first for us was huge, because we feel like we’re at our best when we attack,” Griffiths said. “Once we score, we’re going to push harder. We break the game into four 20-minute quarters.”

Been there before

Griffiths is making his second appearance in the state tournament. But this time is as a coach. He played for Carroll in the 2000 then-Class 4A state tournament. Carroll lost to eventual champion Wichita Falls Rider in a shootout in the semifinals.

So his message to his team was simple.

“They only had four chances to get there,” Griffiths said. “Most of them are playing in the only one. The odds are slim to nil the others will ever return. They have to take advantage of this opportunity.”