In their last two playoff matches, the unranked Aledo Ladycats soccer team has beaten two state-rank opponents.
The last was No. 7 El Paso El Dorado. Last Friday, the Ladycats defeated the Aztecs 3-2 in two overtimes to advance to Friday’s regional semifinal.
The Ladycats will face No. 10 Mansfield Legacy (21-1-2) in a regional semifinal match that is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls, a stadium the Ladycats have already played at three times this season.
The winner will take on the winner of the Lubbock Coronado/Burleson Centennial in the other regional semifinal match that begins at 3 p.m. prior to the Aledo/Legacy match.
The Region I championship match is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Ladycats got to the regional tournament with a 3-1 win over Amarillo in the opening round, followed by a convincing 5-1 win over No. 20 El Paso Chapin before the 2OT win over El Dorado.
Legacy opened the playoffs with a 10-1 victory over Fort Worth O.D. Wyatt followed by a 3-2 shootout win (0-0 in regulation and no scoring in both 10-minute overtimes) over Birdville and last week’s 3-0 blanking of Burleson in the regional quarterfinals.
Ladycats head coach Bryan Johnson said Legacy is strong from front to back.
“They are a really solid team,” Johnson said. “They have a tremendous goalkeeper and backline. They have a solid midfield that supports their forwards. It will be a difficult game and one that will have lots of great soccer.
“The Ladycats are looking forward to playing and competing with one of the best in the area. I know they have a great team and have won 21 games and only been beaten once, by Ursuline, which is an incredible team as well. We will need to play exceptional defense and score when the opportunity arises.”
Scoring has not been a problem for the Ladycats. Freshman forward Ashlyn Laughley scored two key goals in the win over El Dorado, giving her a team-high five goals in three playoff matches. Aledo has outscored its playoff opponents by a combined 11-4.
Johnson feels mid-field play – an area Aledo dominated during the win over El Dorado – will once again be a huge factor.
“In every soccer game the midfield is the key,” he said. “It is the engine that runs the team. Brooke (Jones), Hunter (Jones) and Caroline (Miller) will have their job cut out for them again. We learned this past weekend that we have to work the entire game – every minute – in order to get the win.
“We can’t walk around or expect someone else to do the job. Hopefully, having a full week to rest and prepare will enable us to have some success.”
Two years ago, the Ladycats won the regional tournament and reached the state championship match before falling to Highland Park.
Five sophomores – Brooke Jones, Hunter Jones, Lauryn Crawford, Megan Crawford and Vanessa Rajan – played on the 2017 state-finalist team and are now seniors, and a freshman from the 2017 team, Reagan Knesek, is a junior.
All six are key contributors that Johnson will lean on for experience and helping the younger players cope with the pressure of playing in a regional tournament.
“They have been exceptional leaders all season,” Johnson said. “They have done a great job in helping the young team understand the work that goes into a high school season. They have led by example and the younger girls have excepted the challenge.
“As far as getting to this point, I felt that we were good enough to get to the Region I tournament. What we do is totally up to the girls. If we play and stay focused we should get to the final.
“This team thrives off a challenge. The biggest thing for us is we have been here before and played in Wichita Falls three times this season. As far as I know the other three participating in the tourney haven’t been here before, let alone played in Wichita Falls.
“You have a lot to play against when you enter Memorial Stadium (because of the challenging wind currents). Preparation will be key to this weekend.”