The Stephenville Yellow Jackets didn’t get within one game of 20 wins and reaching the Class 4A boys regional soccer tournament without talented players — and a talented coach.
The 2018 squad had just four seniors, but the Jackets landed seven players on the all-District 4-4A first-team including the Offensive MVP and the Midfielder MVP.
And Taylor Smith, the rookie coach who was given the assignment to lead the team, was voted by his peers as the district’s Coach of the Year.
Kevin Martinez is the Offensive Most Valuable Player, and SHS teammate Ivan Cabrera is the Midfielder MVP. A freshman, J.J. Saldana, is the Offensive Newcomer of the Year. The other Stephenville players on the first team are goal keeper Alfredo Rocha, along with Luis Carrillo, Ethan Nehring and Eliut Reyes.
The Jackets voted to second-team all-district are A.J. Brown, Isidro Manzano, Gerardo Campos and Logan Kirk. Hunter Melton and Eduardo Campos earned honorable mention.
“They definitely deserve it,” Smith said of the players who put together a 19-8 season record and an appearance in the third round of the playoffs. “I said at the beginning of the season we had the team to win district, we over came a rough start and bounced back.”
Cabrera, Brown, Melton and Raul Rodriguez are the only seniors on the team. Reyes is a sophomore, Saldana is a freshmen and the rest honored players are juniors — making the case that the Jackets could continue to be a strong force in the playoffs.
The Jackets saw their eight-game win streak come to an end when they were eliminated in the Region I-4A quarterfinals with a 4-1 loss to Bridgeport. One more win would have sent them into the regional tournament. SHS finished district play in a three-way tie for first place in the district with Abilene Wylie and Mineral Wells, but entered the playoffs as the league’s No. 1 playoff seeding.
Smith said that the Yellow Jackets developed a pattern of having slow starts, but finishing strong in many games with a will to fight back. That trend didn’t always suit Smith, who might have preferred a few fast starts.
“Personally, I didn't always like that,” he said. “I wish we would put people away early but we were a second-half team all year and district was the same way. These kids worked hard and made the most of injuries and opportunities. We had some heart and resilience which led us to a district championship. I couldn't be more proud and even moreso six of our seven first-team players are returning next year so we have even higher expectations.”
One other key SHS player, Jorge Gallegos, didn’t make the all-district team. An eye injury sidelined him for all but three of the nine district games, but he was a leading scorer earlier in the season.
Offensive MVP — Kevin Martinez
Midfielder MVP — Ivan Cabrera
Offensive Newcomer of the Year — J.J. Saldana
Other first-team all-district — Luis Carrillo, Alfredo Rocha, Ethan Nehring, Eliut Reyes
Second-team all-district — A.J. Brown, Isidro Manzano, Gerardo Campos, Logan Kirk
Honorable mention — Hunter Melton, Eduardo Campos.