Back in January the Stephenville Honeybee soccer team began its season with a dream - to win a state championship.
But in high school athletics, when seniority is often key, the young guns are expected to wait their turn.
That was the case with the Honeybees - until last weekend - when they booked their first-ever ticket to the state tournament.
After being bounced by Kennedale in the regional semifinal in 2016, Stephenville said goodbye to one of their most talented classes in program history.
The team graduated 16 seniors leaving behind what most expected to be a team building for the future.
"There were definitely a lot of questions coming into this year. Nobody ever likes to lose 16 seniors," said Stephenville head coach Casey Weil. "We have a great group of upperclassmen, including the seniors, juniors and sophomores who have helped our freshmen along."
The freshmen mentioned by Weil, who is in his 10th year at the helm of the program, have not only contributed, but have been main cogs in the team's build up.
Throughout the season nine freshmen were featured in the first team regularly and since the beginning of the postseason, more have made appearances. Over that time the team has managed to only allow seven goals, while outscoring opponents by a wide margin regularly as is told by their goal differential of +16 in the postseason alone.
"This freshman class is definitely something that you dream about, they are a huge part of what we're doing and what we've managed to accomplish," Weil said.
Despite the success, there is always doubt in every sport when a young talented team threatens to win it all.
Before March 24, a majority of the Honeybees hadn't played meaningful minutes in a postseason match. That didn't stop them from running through Burkburnett, San Elizario, Brownwood, Melissa and reigning state champions and then No. 1 Kennedale on their way to the state tournament.
Concerns about inexperience are no longer valid.
"We just have to stay true to what we do and what we have done all season," said Weil. "At this point in time we are a very experienced playoff team."
Leading in experience are two of the brick walls in the Honeybee defense. Seniors and three-year lettermen Kalee Wright and Savannah Alford are the engines in the Honeybee machine.
The two Midwestern State signees start many of the team's movements up and down the pitch and jumpstart the build up forward. Despite the talent in the freshman class, the two seniors are a big reason why a state championship could be on the horizon.
"Both Savannah and Kalee have been very important for our success. They've been to the playoffs and have experienced this kind of high quality postseason play," said Weil.
Even with veteran players anchoring the team's back line, Coach Weil has stressed not taking the opportunity for granted.
"With that being said, none of us have experienced the state tournament," he said.
Joining Stephenville as first time qualifiers in Georgetown will be their semifinal opponents Athens.
Even though Stephenville is coming off big wins against Melissa and reigning state champions Kennedale in the regional tournament, no one in the locker room is thinking the trophy is theirs to lose.
"We just have to take it one game at a time and play the best we can each game and that will give us a great chance at winning the title," Weil said. "Once you reach the state tournament, everybody is a favorite."
Athens enters the state semifinals with a 16-10-1 record according to Maxpreps. Several notable results include a 3-0 loss to Brownwood and a 7-1 defeat to Kennedale, both of whom were eliminated by the Honeybees on their way to the Final Four.
"I hope they try to play soccer and don't pack the back," Weil said regarding a commonly used tactic used against his team this season. "They're a good team. They're in the state tournament and I expect it to be a tough match."
Leading the charge for the Lady Hornets will be their dangerous goal scorer Makayle Traxson. The senior is an Arkansas commit and is also the program's leading scorer having found the back of the net over 130 times.
The game plan won't change for Stephenville though. Weil expects his team to be fluid across the pitch and set the tempo from the first to the last whistle.
"We would like to continue to dictate the game. That's where we've been successful, even against Melissa and Kennedale. We've proven to be strong at the back and we need to maintain that. We can't give teams anything. We have to make them earn it."
No matter what happens in Georgetown the memories built by the team will stick with all involved for the remainder of their lives. Weil is proud of what he's seen his team accomplish and hopes to see them be the last team standing on Thursday.
"These girls mean the world to us as a coaching staff," he said. "They are extremely special, they work extremely hard and have stayed humble throughout this entire year. The only thing that I can say to these girls is that I love them. They've given me something that my family and I will remember for the rest of our lives."
The Honeybees and Athens are scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown.
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