Aledo senior midfielder Brooke Jones sailed a 35-yard attempt over El Dorado’s goal keeper in the 95th minute to send the Bearcats to a 3-2 overtime victory against the Aztecs on Friday and into the 5A Region I tournament on April 12.
It’s their second trip in three years.
The Bearcats (19-2-5) will play Legacy (21-1-2) in the 5A Region I semifinals at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
Jones was a sophomore when Aledo reached the 5A state final in 2017 and the Bearcats are enjoying a bounce-back season after getting knocked off by South Hills in the first round in 2018.
But Jones wasn’t on that team.
She, like most other girls soccer players, skipped her high school season to play in the Developmental Academy, a top tier league formed by U.S. soccer. It was a way to play tougher competition in hopes to land a college scholarship.
Other teams still in the playoffs, like Southlake Carroll, were apart of the DA movement.
Sydney Nobles, who signed with Texas, played as a junior, but is back with the Dragons. Oklahoma signee Taylor Tufts did DA in the fall, but returned to high school for the 2018 season.
Legacy seniors and Sam Houston State signees Tatum Krueger and Kamryn Blevins played DA last season as well.
“Club soccer is a necessary evil. Girls need to play it,” Aledo head coach Bryan Johnson said. “They get more practice through high school, but at what level. I feel like ours are competitive at Aledo, but I have 14, 15 year olds whereas club has a whole team of 18 year olds. It’s a lot faster.”
It’s been that way on the boys side. It started for girls in the fall of 2017.
“It was great experience,” Jones said. “I wasn’t sure about it at first. I had to make the team, but everyone told me it was a good option. The worst part was just watching your high school team without you.”
Jones went to DA uncommitted. When she returned to Aledo this season, she was committed and signed with Sam Houston State.
“I missed high school, but went to DA and got what I needed,” she said. “There were a lot of Division I coaches looking at DA players. It’s more intense and a lot faster.”
She returned to the Bearcats and has recorded 16 goals and 21 assists, both career highs.
“I was excited to come back and play with my best friends,” Jones said. “Playing in high school is one of the greatest experiences. I’m proud to wear the Aledo A and have my number on my jersey again.”
“I thought she would come back, but wasn’t positive,” Johnson added. “I understood when she left, she was going to jump in and give it a try. She did an excellent job and got a college gig out of it.
“She has a lot of good friends still on the team so it’s been awesome to have her back. She always has a great attitude, plays fast and sees things ahead of time and that’s making the other girls better as well.”
Johnson had others leave for DA including a starting center back, starting defender and two goal keepers, but Jones was the only one that came back. The Bearcats took a loss this season when junior Cheney Huddleston chose not to play in high school.
“You never want to lose your kids and obviously we’d love to have her,” Johnson said.
“It’s hard to replace Cheney. She’s the most unique person you’ll meet,” Jones added. “Obviously we miss her, but I did the same thing and I understand the influences DA has. She wants to play in college.”
Freshman Ashlyn Laughley leads the team with 24 goals and is second behind Jones with 17 assists. Sophomore Grace Ornelas has added 15 goals and 8 assists. Freshman Arwen Wise has 8 goals and senior Megan Crawford has 7.
“It’s amazing what Ashlyn is doing as a 14-year-old. She doesn’t play like one,” Johnson said.
Sophomore Caroline Miller has 8 assists and senior Vanessa Rajan has 7.
Freshman Emma Davis has 98 saves and 10 shutouts.
Said Johnson, “We’ve been able to have other girls step up and right now we’re meshing and playing really well together.”