No road to a UIL state soccer title comes easy, but when you talk about the toughest mountains to climb, it’s hard to look past the girls field in Class 6A Region I.
To put the challenge in perspective, seven of the 32 teams are ranked in the TopDrawerSoccer Winter FAB 50 national rankings: Southlake Carroll, Trophy Club Nelson, Allen, Keller, Flower Mound, Flower Mound Marcus and Coppell, which happens to be the defending state champion.
Arlington Martin also checks in at No. 48 on the list, meaning one quarter of the region is ranked in the top 50 in the country.
“You know that if you get out of Region I, you’re one of the best,” Martin coach Sabina Harrington said. “You’re playing the best every round that you play. You could be playing a state semifinal-worthy match in the area round.”
There’s a good chance any team that makes it to Georgetown for the state tournament will have to go through a few of these powerhouses first.
“It is what it is, you can’t get around it,” Keller coach Billy Griffiths said. “The only way we can look at it is that we are one of those teams. We have to look at it as we have just as good a chance as they do.”
The UIL soccer playoffs officially get underway on Thursday.
Five questions about this year’s playoffs:
Can the Grapevine (17-5-3) girls or Sam Houston (13-6-2) boys claw their way back to the state tournament? With both teams returning a fair amount of key players, expectations were high this season, but most any coach will tell you while getting there is hard, getting back is even harder. Last season each team had only two regular-season losses.
Which district champs will fall in the first round in Region I? Last season, four (that’s half) of the district top seeds in boys 6A lost their bi-district matchups. Three top seeds lost in 5A. There are sure to be upsets again this season.
How will teams deal with the long break many had from meaningful games? With spring break for many area schools this past week, most districts opted to conclude either March 11 or March 14-15. Bi-district playoffs don’t start until Thursday. Some teams scheduled warm-up games, while others have only been practicing.
How many additional games will Esmie Gonzales get to extend her national record goal-scoring mark? In her three previous seasons, the Scorpions have only won a pair of playoff games, not advancing past the area round. Gonzales ended the regular season with 106 goals this season for a total of 313. South Hills (17-5-0) has a warm-up game Monday against North Crowley before facing Burleson Centennial (15-5-3) in bi-district.
How far can the Joshua girls’ defense carry the Owls? Joshua allowed only five goals all season, with three of those coming in a March 4 loss to Cleburne. Eighteen of the Owls 20 wins came via shutout.
Boys teams to watch
While the Southlake Carroll girls get most of the attention, the boys have come on strong to close the season.
After losing a District 7-6A match to Coppell on Feb. 23, the Dragons won their final five matches to finish 15-4-4 overall on the season.
Granbury’s next loss in regulation (if there is one) will be its only of the season. The Pirates went 19-0-4 on the season, though technically took a district shootout loss in late January at Everman.
Fort Worth North Side is desperate for another shot at state after falling in the regional semifinal the past two years. Two of the Steers’ three losses this season are to 6A opposition and the team went undefeated through District 7-5A en route to an 18-3-0 mark.
Girls teams to watch
Defending 4A state champion Kennedale (19-2-0) is everyone’s target.
It’s an experienced squad that was battle tested early in the season before steamrolling through district play, outscoring opponents 73-2. The Wildcats only losses this season came to 6A programs Midlothian and Arlington Martin.
The Martin girls (19-3-1) have lost only two district games in the past four years, including a sweep of 4-6A this year. The Warriors ran into state champs Coppell in the regional semifinal last season and, as mentioned, the path to Georgetown gets no easier this year.
Mansfield has been clicking in its second year under coach George Velten. The Tigers were on an 11-game win streak before closing the regular season with consecutive scoreless draws to finish 15-2-2. Can they get their offense cranked back up in the postseason?