Stephenville High School’s hope of winning back-to-back girls soccer state championships in 2018 ended Friday with a 2-1 loss to third-ranked Midlothian Heritage.
But considering how much young talent is coming back — how does two out of three or even three out of four sound?
The fifth-ranked Honeybees, who captured the school’s first-ever girls state soccer championship in 2017, grabbed a 1-0 lead at the 32:02 mark in the second half. Claire Choate scored off an assist by Johnston.
But the Lady Jaguars (26-3-1) soon came back with two goals of their own within a little over eight minutes to make it 2-1. Their first goal came came at the 23:29 mark in the second half.
The tying goal came at the 15:52 mark in the second half, just 25 seconds after Stephenville’s leading scorer, Ciara Johnston, had to leave the game with an injury to her right arm.
Johnston’s injury came in front of the goal on Heritage’s end of the field, immediately after a flurry of scoring chances were missed by SHS within inches of the net while players from both teams scrambled.
But instead of the Honeybees being able to take that 2-1 lead, the Lady Jaguars took advantage of the psychological and physical loss of Johnston and sprinted down the field to record what turned out to be the winning goal.
“We had a lot of different chances to score. If we score that one, it’s a completely different outcome,” SHS head coach Casey Weil said of that sequence in front of the goal.
Another SHS player, Brinkley Harlow, had to leave the game with a collarbone injury at the 23:20 mark in the second half when she collided with the concrete base of the stands after running out of bounds.
“I’m never going to blame the game on anybody. I thought they (the Lady Jaguars) were extremely physical,” Weil said. “They make it difficult when (fouls) are not called, and it gets worse and worse.”
On losing Johnston for the rest of the game after her injury, Weil pointed out that the team has outstanding depth when any player goes out of the game.
“It doesn’t matter to them (the players),” Weil stated. “They’re going to play. I just wish it would be a clean game.”
Weil did admit that not being able to repeat this year is disappointing.
“For a lot of teams, that goal is unrealistic,” he said. “But when you win last year, the pressure is on you but our girls handled it well. I’m proud of our girls, proud of our seniors, proud of everybody.”
The Honeybees closed out their season with a 23-4 season record, after having captured their first-ever outright District 8-4A title.
The large, talented group of 13 current sophomores were among the core players who were freshmen when the Honeybees defeated Boerne for the state title a year ago and finished with a 25-4 record.
One of the seniors, Karsyn Kimbrough, missed all of last season after having surgery on her injured right knee four times.
“For me, I thought how this will challenge the girls to work harder, to come back next year,” said Kimbrough, a four-year letterman who was first-team all-district as a sophomore.
Kimbrough said that seeing Johnston leave the game “really messed with everyone’s brain.”
“She’s one of our best players,” Kimbrough added. “When you lose one of your best players, it messes with your head.”
Senior Alexis De Los Santos, a four-year letterman who has earned all-district honors three times so far, said, “We had high hopes we’d come back. I think a lot of the underclassmen will come back next year and accomplish more than we did.
“I really thought we would go all the way this year. But I guess we have to be happy with the one we have. The second one is the hardest to get.”
In addition to De Los Santos and Kimbrough, the only other seniors on the team is Natalie Elizondo.
The extent of Johnston’s arm injury was not immediately known. Weil said that she was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.
The Lady Jaguars will take on Abilene Wylie Saturday in the regional final, for the right to advance to next week’s state tournament. Wylie beat Fort Worth Castleberry 5-2 in the other semifinal.