Stephenville High School’s boys soccer coach Taylor Smith is excited about his 2019 Yellow Jackets, and isn’t afraid to say so.

The Yellow Jackets opened their season last weekend, winning the team trophy at the Liberty Hill Showcase.

The Yellow Jackets won three of their four games in the three-day event, and won the showcase based on overall wins. They opened with a 1-0 win over Taylor last Thursday. On Friday they beat Midlothian Heritage 4-2, then lost to 2018 state tournament qualifier Progreso, 2-0. SHS clinched the team trophy on Saturday with a 3-1 decision over Alvarado.

“We looked really good in attacking on offense,” said Smith, whose team outscored Abilene Wylie 3-2 in its lone preseason scrimmage the previous Tuesday. “I think we can score on anybody.”

Smith added, “I think this team has a chance to be special.”

Despite losing three key players from last year’s team, but there are 10 current players who have had at least some starting experience.

“Our defense is getting better, becoming more solid,” Smith said. “I think this team has a chance to win state.”

Smith calls goalkeeper Alfredo Rocha, who was a first-team all-region performer last season, the heart of the Jackets’ defense.

“I’m confident that if he’s not the best keeper in the state, he’s one of the best keepers in the state,” Smith said of Rocha.

A trio of experienced senior midfielder standouts — Kevin Martinez, Luis Carrillo and Jorge Gallegos — also have Smith raving. All three were first-team all-district a year ago, and Smith earned all-region honorable mention.

“Our upper midfield area, they have a lot of pace,” Smith said. “They can beat just about anybody one-on-one. They play well together.”

Another key standout with plenty of experience is Ysidro Manazo, a senior defensive midfielder who was second-team all-district last season. Senior defender Ethan Mehring also provides solid defensive skills.

“Ethan and Ysidro really help out our defense a lot,” said Smith, who expects to carry about 25 players on the varsity. “They all balance each other out, with Alfredo’s vocal leadership. Jorge, Luis and Kevin have a chance to get all-region.”

The top challenger to the Jackets in district should once again be Mineral Wells. The Rams beat the Jackets in both of their district matchups, which resulted in a three-way tie. But SHS won a tie-breaker based on goals scored and allowed, for the right to enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed from the district.

The new alignment for district play this season, in District 6-4A, includes only three schools — Brownwood, Mineral Wells and Stephenville. Their bi-district matchups will be out of District 5-4A, which also has just three — Burkburnett, Graham and Wichita Falls Hirschi.

The Jackets reached the third round of the playoffs in 2018 before being eliminated by Bridgeport. SHS finished with a 19-8 season mark.

The 3-1 Jackets were scheduled to be at home Tuesday (Jan. 8) at 7 p.m. against Fort Worth Western Hills. Their next action will be Jan. 10-12 in a tournament in Wichita Falls on the campus of Midwestern State University.

Stephenville’s annual Knights of Columbus tournament will be Jan. 18-19. The Jackets will open district play on Feb. 15 at home against Mineral Wells.