In tense matches like the one the Northwest Byron Nelson girls soccer team played on March 1 against Keller, a head coach really learns about the mental toughness of his team along with certain individuals.
The 0-0 scoreless tie that ended in the Lady Bobcats (18-0-1, 10-0-1 in District 5-6A) winning on penalty kicks, 5-4, ensured what Nelson coach Philip Salyer thought he had in senior keeper Tatum Hightower.
It wasn’t revealed in the PK exchange. Hightower made the save on Keller’s final kick to give the Lady Bobcats the extra points. But it was shown throughout the contest.
Salyer was quick to point out that Keller had the better control of the match and seemed to dictate a little more on the flow and where shots were directed. Meanwhile, Nelson was limited in its number of chances. Katina Tsapos hit the Keller crossbar in the opening minutes. However, there weren’t many other good looks.
“It definitely had the feel of a playoff game,” Salyer said. “The experience of facing something like that as we get closer to the playoffs was important. They will have been in a game like this. But I think it was one of Tatum’s best games of her career. She handled a lot of tough chances that kept it tied and got it into overtime.”
Hightower, who has signed with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, spent most of her career either splitting time in the box or serving as the backup. But the 2016 season turned into her opportunity. Nelson has allowed fewer than 10 goals all season.
Salyer made Hightower one of the captains of the team. Her instincts to play the position have advanced to where she can read the field better and make calculated decisions, Salyer said.
“Really, she’s improved every year,” Salyer said. “The biggest thing about her season is her confidence. She feels comfortable with her decisions and understands how to play cross passes and corner kicks better.
“Tatum has always been a good communicator. But when you see her just understanding when it’s time to come out [of the box] and when not to come out, it really makes for someone who can make you even stronger back there.”
Keeper is essentially a specialized position. The only way a coach is going to know what he has back there is the amount of experience she accrues. Nelson has posted at least 10 shutouts. A strong start to her season that began at the Nolan Catholic tournament in January has just led to bigger things.
Nelson nears title
The Lady Bobcats have already wrapped up a playoff berth. But they are now trying to secure the district title. With three matches remaining and a six-point lead over the Lady Indians, Nelson could have clinched it as early as Tuesday with the home match against Denton Guyer. If not then, Nelson could do on Friday at Keller Central.
Justin Northwest update
Becca Willett’s team continues to make steady progress. In a season that won’t result in a playoff appearance, the Lady Texans arguably had one of their better weeks.
Northwest (2-5-4 in District 5-6A) defeated Keller Central, 2-0, before the 2-0 loss to Nelson this past Friday in a game that was in doubt until the final minutes.
The Lady Texans played at Keller Timber Creek on Tuesday before playing host to Denton Ryan on Friday.