MINERAL WELLS —
By TONY EIERDAM
With eight seniors on the roster – including all-district, first-team selections from last year in midfielder Miriam Garcia and defender Jessica Baeza – the 2013 Mineral Wells Lady Rams soccer team will have a nice mix of upperclassmen and a talented freshman class as they try to qualify for the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a row.
John Tuggle, entering his 10th season as head coach, will also welcome back the District 12-4A Newcomer of the Year last season, sophomore Bre Hinojos, as well as second-team, all-district performer Emily Clingings.
Also, team leader Mollie Clarke, a forward and the only four-year starter but who was plagued with injuries last season, returns to lead the Lady Rams not only offensively, but spiritually as well.
The Lady Rams have not gotten past the first round in the last two years, and Tuggle is hoping his unique blend of experience and youth can take the team over the hump.
But the Lady Rams will have to find a replacement for last year’s all-district, first-team goalkeeper Jennifer Carrizales, who was a consistent element in front of the net for three consecutive years.
But the new goalkeeper will also have the steady midfield play of Garcia and Bailey Thomas in front of her, and Tuggle feels his defense is one of many strengths.
The defense will be led by Baeza and Clingings.
“We expect to make the playoffs this year,” Tuggle said. “With having Miriam and Bailey back in the middle – and we put them in the middle last year before district play began – we have two players who can control the game.
“I think our defense is more solid this year with a change in our defensive formation. In the past, we used the sweeper-stopper system, but this year we are changing to a flat-back four defense.
“The kids have got our defensive concept down, and although we are still a little bit rusty, the girls understand what we are trying to teach them.
For this reason I feel our defense will be stronger.”
Other defenders include sophomore Mason Malone, freshman Erin McGuire, freshman Desiree Bell and freshman Jillian Ishmael.
Other midfielders include sophomores Kaleigh Aaron, Mollie Martinez and Gaby Lazo; seniors Flor Turcios and Marlene Betancourt; and freshmen Caroline Clarke, Kylie Williams and Brittany Smith.
After three years of solid goalkeeping from Carrizales, the Lady Rams will have two young ladies – sophomore Rebecca Langley and freshman Alana Holly – tending the net.
“We will start from scratch with the goalie position,” Tuggle said. “But again, we are solid defensively, and that will be a plus for our new goalies.”
Tuggle will look to forwards Hinojos and Sami Stevens to do a lot of the scoring. Other forwards include senior Juana Velasquez, and sophomores Bailey Toalson and Jennifer Rojo.
“Bre and Sami will be our forwards up top,” Tuggle said. “We have speed and power there. Sami is our power forward who will bulldoze defenders, and Bre is quick and more of a finisher.
“Bailey with Bre is always a good combination, and Miriam will be a force with direct kicks and long balls and crosses.
“We also have a freshman, Erin McGuire, who we have discovered is very good with long balls. If Miriam isn’t in for a corner kick, Erin will definitely do that.
“Our strengths in scoring are probably going to be crosses (passes to the middle from the outside), corner kicks and direct kicks.
“We may get a through kick (from the middle) here and there, but I think we will have better scoring chances from the outside with crossing or long ball type of offensive attacks.”
The Lady Rams, Tuggle said, lack significant speed, and will rely on limiting mistakes, passing and good ball control on offense.
“We are not as fast as I would like us to be,” Tuggle said. “So we concentrate and work hard on that in practice every day. We work on good first touches and movement off the ball.
“We have three or four players with decent speed, but we really will rely on a combination play – our passes with each other and not an individual type of speed game.”
Tuggle said Clarke is a natural leader, and explained that the younger players will look up to her and follow her.
“Mollie brings us senior leadership, motivation and support,” Tuggle said. “She is also a finisher. The way she carries herself, all the younger kids – especially her freshman sister Caroline and her classmates on the team who have watched Mollie play the last three years – really look up to her.
“They see Mollie as a bigger sister or the leader, so I think they will jell and follow her leadership. There is no question Mollie is our leader, along with Miriam.”
MWHS coaches have raved about the girls’ freshman class, and Tuggle expects to receive his share of the young athletes. Mollie’s sister, Caroline, is one of seven freshman players who will be expected to contribute.
“All of our freshmen are very athletic,” Tuggle said. “There isn’t anybody at this point who really stands out as a supreme speed player or great shooter, but together they are a solid group of girls who simply want to win.
“They work hard and are very coachable. That helps out a lot.”
Tuggle goals are simple – get to the playoffs again and get past the opening round.
“We definitely want to make it three in a row as far as playoff appearances,” Tuggle said. “We want to play good, consistent soccer all year, and we want to improve each week defensively while scoring a lot of goals.
“Playing consistent soccer will help us to achieve our goal.”