After finishing third in District 8-6A last season – coach George Velten’s first as head coach of the Lady Tigers – the Mansfield girls soccer team has ascended back to the district throne in what has been a smoother year both on and off the field.
“We had a lot of younger players come in that really had good attitudes about the whole thing,” junior midfielder Hannah Webb said. “They were willing to work and put in the effort. That really helped us grow as a team.”
Velten inherited a team last season with 13 seniors, and admits in such a scenario it’s hard to step in and make drastic changes.
“Everybody will tell you, it takes a little while to settle in,” he said.
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But this year, Velten started putting more of his own stamp on a program proud of its tradition. Webb says with a full year of familiarity with the coach, changes came easier.
“We have become more familiar with the way he operated,” she said. “We just accepted the things that he wanted and were able to build off that.”
The team instituted new warmups, new workouts and a new focus on fitness, among other things.
“You make the changes and either the kids buy in or they don’t,” Velten asserted. “We had a ton of kids buy in.”
The changes appear to have had a positive impact, not just in the quality of play, but also in the locker room.
“We are definitely very close this year,” Webb said. “We are all friends and enjoy hanging out together. It’s been a really good year both on and off the field.”
In fact, Velten is concerned that sometimes the players get along too well.
“One of the problems I worry about is that we’re too happy,” Velten said. “It’s weird to say that, but at times I feel like we’re too happy and having too much fun. I’m more of a ‘let’s get locked in’ type of person, but we’ve got a great group and they work hard together, so if I have to complain about them being too happy or having too much fun, that’s a pretty good thing to have to complain about.”
Winning helps, of course, and the Lady Tigers have done plenty of that this year. Mansfield had won 11 straight before settling for a 0-0 draw against Cedar Hill last Friday night. The tie did clinch the outright district title with one game remaining (Tuesday vs. Midlothian), but it also frustrated coaches and players.
“We were not very happy after a game we should have won, so that was more or less a wake-up call to tell us that playoffs are about to start and we need to really start focusing and cracking down,” Webb said.
By virtue of earning the first seed from District 8-6A, the Lady Tigers draw 7-6A fourth-seed Colleyville Heritage in the first round, and will initially avoid state powers Coppell and Southlake Carroll (which eliminated Mansfield in the bi-district round last season). Even if Mansfield advances to meet one of those teams later in the playoffs, the experience of playing them last season helps.
“We remember we had some momentum going in that game,” Webb said. “So we know we’re capable of playing at that level.”