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Girls soccer

Ladycats fall to Midlothian in area playoff

Youthful roster brings optimism for next season


Ladycat goalkeeper, Ava Fennell maneuvers around teammate Baylee Velarde to defend the net during a Midlothian corner kick in the Area Playoff match on Thursday, March 28. Midlothian took 21 shots on goal during the match with Fennell collecting 15 saves.
Ladycat goalkeeper, Ava Fennell maneuvers around teammate Baylee Velarde to defend the net during a Midlothian corner kick in the Area Playoff match …

No one associated with the Ladycat soccer club expected the Class 5A area round playoff matchup at Tim Buchanan Stadium against Midlothian to be easy. It was a “David versus Goliath” scenario pitting a perennial soccer powerhouse against at young team who just hoped to be in the playoff picture when the season began.

While the Lady Panthers’ 6-0 win on Thursday, March 28, wasn’t easy to accept, it signaled the season being officially over for a Ladycats squad that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three months.

“[Midlothian’s] a good team,” commended Ladycats head coach Bryan Johnson after the match. “I still don’t think they’re 6-0 better than us. I do know that score line says that. I also know we’ve got girls that didn’t quit and fought hard to the very end. I saw some things from some of the younger girls that I hope we’re going to grow from. And the seniors got to put in that effort there at the end. All positives.”

Taking on the bombardment

For 80 minutes the Lady Panthers (23-2) prowled around the pitch, and for 80 minutes the

Ladycats (11-9-3) took everything thrown their way with an unwavering determination. Midlothian, which won for a 22nd straight contest, started the game with the hammer down, catching the hometown team off guard with their first score of the contest coming just 13 seconds into the match. The Lady Panthers added a second goal in the ninth minute of play before finding the net a third time before the end of the first half.

When play resumed in the second half, it was much the same. Behind a three-goal

effort by Zayla Reagan, Midlothian overwhelmed the Ladycats defense to score a trifecta of second-half goals before the game, along with the Aledo season, came to an end.

While they scored six goals in the match, had it not been for the spectacular

performance of Ladycat goalkeeper, Ava Fennell, the final score easily could’ve been significantly more lopsided. The Lady Panthers took 21 shots on goal during the match, not including a couple other attempts that were called offsides by the officials. 

Of the 21 missiles fired at her goal, Fennell stopped 15. By contrast, when the two teams met up earlier in the season, the Lady Panthers scored six goals on 10 shots with Fennell tending the net.

“Ava played lights out,” Johnson said of his keeper. “It was amazing! Hopefully she can grow from that, and continue to get better. I think back to when she was an eighth-grader and I didn’t have a goalkeeper. She said, ‘I’ll do it!’ I remember those first few games.

"She had no idea what she was doing. She couldn’t punt the ball. She had no concept of where she was in the goal. Then, lead her up to this year – her junior season – and she’s making saves against a U17 National Team player. 

"She's punting the ball to midfield. She’s making goal kicks. Some of our top goalkeepers we’ve ever had couldn’t take goal kicks. She works at it. She’s earning her role. There’s growth there every time. She’s a pretty freaking amazing kid. I think we’re very lucky to have her here in Aledo.”

Optimism for next season

In a season that started off with so many question marks, a significant amount of youth, no known goal scorers, and just six seniors on the roster, the notion of making a playoff run seemed insurmountable. Doing what Aledo teams do best, the Ladycats went to work every day looking to replace those question marks with some definitive statements.

As they worked their way through the pre-district portion of the schedule, things started to take shape. Fennell secured the starting job in the net. The defensive backfield came together. Freshman Allyson Weimer emerged as the top goal scorer on a team desperately in need of some offensive firepower.

“We kind of figured some stuff out,” Johnson recalled. “The youth we’ve got coming up with the freshmen, and we’ve got a good core group that’s going to return next year, I really do feel like there’s going to be a lot of positives to what’s coming going forward.

"Our season’s over, but next Wednesday we start off-season and get right back after it. We’ve got 10 girls playing club right now in the International Cup. That’s growth for Aledo. It’s been incredible. It's been a good season.”

Farewell to seniors

Losses like the one the Ladycats experienced on Thursday generally hits the seniors

the hardest. With the season coming to an end, Thursday was no exception. On a roster of 26 players, the small and mighty group of six seniors may have played their last match in an Aledo uniform, but Johnson is grateful for the mark they’ve left on the program.

“We had six seniors this year. We’re losing them, but I think they’ve laid a pretty good foundation for this group. They’ve been good leaders and somebody to look up to this year, which has been awesome,” he stated.

Following their final season in Aledo, each of the six seniors will depart to begin the next chapter of their lives. Georgia Zirbser will head off to attend Texas A&M along with teammate Hailey Vandiver. Emaree Gibson will head north to play soccer for Friends University in Kansas. Payton Weaver will attend Oklahoma State University. Emma Boyd and Dakota Jackson also plan to attend college starting in the fall, though their specific destinations are not immediately known.


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