In unusual yet convenient circumstances, both the Aledo Ladycats and Bearcats soccer teams will face the Amarillo Sandies in the Class 5A bi-district playoffs, and at the same venue.
The Ladycats and Amarillo will square off at 4 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls, followed by the Bearcats/Amarillo bi-district match at 6 p.m.
The Ladycats are the No. 2 seed from District 4-5A, while the Amarillo ladies are the third seed from District 3-5A.
Although his team had a long layoff after district play due to spring break, a district-wide bye and its bye in the last date of district play, Ladycats head coach Bryan Johnson likes where his team is at this point.
“I would hope at this time we are where we should be,” he said. “It’s been a couple weeks since playing a competitive match and I believe the girls will need to get a quick start and get some quality touches early.
“The nerves will play an early role in this game. I still feel our strength is the team defense and the ability to transition from defense to offense quickly.”
Johnson said despite a third seed – meaning finishing third in district – Amarillo is a team capable of making a playoff run.
“Amarillo is a quality team, and what I’ve heard and understand about them is they like to put the ball on the ground and try to pass around opponents,” he said. “We will need to hold possession and take chances with shots when the opportunity presents itself.”
Bearcats head coach Derek Vierling has not had a fully-healthy squad all season. He finally is getting all of his players healthy at the most important time of the year. The Bearcats also had a lengthy layoff after their final district match, but that has seemed to work in the team’s favor.
The Bearcats are the third seed from District 4-5A and the Sandies are the second seed from District 3-5A.
“We didn’t exactly finish district on a high note, but that’s because of all the injuries we suffered,” Vierling said. “The positive is we are getting healthy, and for the first time all season we had everyone at practice on Tuesday.
“I think our main strength is the experience we gained the last couple of years in the playoffs. Not many teams can say they played 10 playoff games the last two years. I really think the juniors and seniors that have been a part of that will give us an advantage over our opponents.”
When asked what Amarillo’s strengths are and what the Bearcats need to do to combat those strengths, Vierling replied, “They are very athletic and fast – luckily for us we have some size to match up with them. Hopefully we can win the battle on set pieces and use our playoff experience to our advantage.”
Soccer coaches often point to midfield play – especially in the playoffs – as one of if not the most important aspect of the game. Johnson has talked about how important that area is all season.
“It will be the most crucial segment of the game,” he said. “We will need to win every ball, start every attack, and transition defensively as a unit. Brooke (Jones), Hunter (Jones), and Caroline (Miller) will need to be at their best to give us the best chance to win.
“They will need to be the engine to help our team compete at its highest level.”
Vierling said Amarillo has feasted on the midfield play of senior midfielder Elmer Castro.
“They have a special player in No. 10 (Castro) at center mid and we are going to do our best to try and contain him,” he said. “Hopefully, we can control the midfield which will alleviate some of the pressure on our defense.
“If they get through I have confidence in (defenders) Micco (Little) and Austin (Jones) to really play a strong game.”
Johnson feels his defense will also play an important role in the match.
“Defensively, we will have to be completely focused for the entire 80 minutes,” he said. “They will have to work as a unit to shut down anything that Amarillo tries to play through and not let them get in behind our line.
“We need to stay pressed and not allow any rhythm for the Sandies.”
Johnson is hoping his seniors, especially the players who as sophomores played in the state-championship match in 2017, provide the necessary leadership.
“The seniors have played a big role all season long,” he said. “This game will not be any different. Their leadership throughout this season has led this team to an incredible season so far. I know they want to prove they are the best group of seniors to play here and that will be proven if they get back to state.
“Offensively,” Johnson continued, “our front three along with some subs will need to make the biggest difference. We must score and we must do it early and not allow Amarillo the opportunity to get into the game.
“We need combination work up top from Megan (Crawford) , Ashlyn (Laughley), and Grace (Ornelas) as well as pressure on their defensive unit to get us through to the next round. I’m looking forward to a great contest and hopefully a successful game for all involved.”
The winner of the girls’ match will face the winner of the El Paso Chapin/El Paso Bel Air bi-district match in the area (second) round.
The winner of the boys’ match will face the winner of the El Paso Bel Air/Canutillo bi-district match in the area round.