In Texas, football remains king. But over the past four years, the community has also embraced the queens of the local sports world — Stephenville High School’s Honeybee soccer dynasty.

The Bees won the 2017 Class 4A girls state soccer championship over Boerne, 2-1, when the current seniors were only freshmen. With that 2017 season bringing the first girls soccer championship in school history — combined with the idea that the young and talented Bees could continue to dominate in years to follow — helped make local soccer more popular than before.

Beatris Chavarria, now a senior midfielder for the No. 3-ranked Bees, referred to it as a “shocking factor” — and “the shock that we brought to Stephenville.”

The Yellow Jackets of coach Taylor Smith have also contributed to the growing soccer excitement and expectations, including last season when they posted school’s most successful boys soccer season ever. They reached the 2019 regional title game before falling to San Elizario, which went on to capture its second consecutive boys state championship.

Last spring, the Honeybees won the 4A girls soccer title for the second time in three years with Weil at the helm. Now the

Bees (18-1-1) have their sights on accomplishing a feat that no Texas high school girls soccer team his ever done, in any classification — win three UIL state championships in a four-year span.

Among Texas high school boys soccer teams, Plano won three consecutive UIL state crowns (1991-1993), and this year San Elizario will be seeking its third in a row.

A DANDY DOZEN

The 12 senior members of the Honeybees who have played together on one team or another for more than a decade are: Madison Wyly, Beatris Chavarria, Claire Choate, Haleigh Beam, Jimena Espinoza, Daisy Richards, Brinkley Harlow, Cheney Carrillo, Ciara Johnston, Gracie Bales, Courtney Langley and Bailie Atchley.

One other current senior player, Autumn Seeman, joined the team last year after her family moved to Stephenville.

Many of them started playing together at age six or seven on a local recreational league team in Stephenville known as Quest, then with a club team in Granbury and, later, one that was based in the Metroplex.

The rest of the current squad includes only three juniors — Ella Brown, Anna Ronck and Abby Harrison. The group of six sophomores on the varsity includes Shawna Morrow, Emmaleigh Daniel, Kathryn Cameron, Brooklyn Langford, Madisyn Cole and Bella Diaz. Four freshmen — Ansley Meza, Haley Lopez, Victoria Cameron and Melissa Osornio — fill out the remaining roster spots.

The team has already clinched another District 6-4A title, at 5-0 going into their final regular-season game, against Brownwood. That game was scheduled to be played on Friday, March 20 (pending any changes because of school closures as a result of the COVID-19 precautions. The Bees will have a first-round bye in the playoffs, and will open postseason play in the area round against an opponent yet to be determined.

From there, the Bees will have a chance to make their mark in the soccer record books one more time.

As Beam recently told the Empire-Tribune, “It’s history. We’re making history.”

RECORD-SETTERS

The 2017 squad, which was 25-4, posted 19 shutouts and gave up a school record of only eight goals for the entire season. Last season the Bees were 25-1-2 and set a girls soccer school record for scoring in a single season, totaling 154 goals in their 28 games.

Combined with the 23-4 record in 2018 and the current 18-1-1 mark, the senior Bees have played a part in 91 wins, with just 10 losses and three ties.

If not for a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to a physical Midlothian Heritage squad — the eventual 4A state champion, and current No. 1 in the state in the MaxPreps online rankings — in the regional semifinal round of the 2018 playoffs, the Bees could have been going for four in a row this year. Ciara Johnston and Brinkley Harlow were knocked out of the Heritage game in the second half by injuries, and Gracie Bales played but wasn’t at full speed because of an ankle problem.

“A lot of us don’t like to talk about it just because it was such a devastating thing to even go through,” Bales said of that loss. “We knew that’s not where we should have ended. We were better than that team, but they were good too. We can’t be mad that we lost to the state champions.

“I feel like since that happened, it was kind of like we know what it feels like and we know that we never want to feel that way again. That’s kind of how I feed off of it. A loss is always terrible. I hate losing, we all hate losing. It’s something, that I guess, that is still there. It still stings every now and then when you think about it. But we’re looking to bigger things.”

LOFTY HONORS

Beam, Johnston and Chavarria were named to the all-state tournament team as freshmen, and first-team all-state honors for that 2017 season were earned by Chavarria and Johnston while Bales was second-team all-state.

Following the 2-0 victory over Liberty Hill (currently ranked No. 2) in the 2019 state title game, Johnston was voted as the Class 4A tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Goal keeper Madison Wyly along with Chavarria and Johnston were voted first-team all-state, and Bales made second-team all-state. And Weil was honored by the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s award as the 2019 Soccer Coach of the Year for all UIL divisions (Class 4A, 5A and 6A), and was also named Coach of the Year by the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches.

As forwards, Johnston has tended to be the team’s leading scorer, often followed by Bales, for the majority of the time they have played together. After being a defensive specialist her first two seasons, Chavarria was moved to a midfield spot, and Weil said he considers her to be one of the best defensive players the school has had.

COACH CASEY WEIL

Weil, who has described the Bees as “relentless” when at their best, make it work by playing together as if they were sisters.

“And you can tell. They would rather let me down before they let them down. That’s how close they are.”

Could the seniors be complacent — satisfied with their two state championship medals?

“Not at all. Their mentality is completely different. A lot of teams could say that. You could change some dynamics and this, that and the other of your team that could effect it.

“But with this bunch, we’ve kept the same bunch together for a long time. We haven’t had anybody quit, we haven’t had anybody move away. We actually got some girls that moved in that we have accepted and that helped our team, and freshmen that have come in. You know, they adapt to them and welcome them, just like the girls that they’ve been with for years.

“It’s a testament to the type of people they are. They’re great soccer players, but they’re even better people, if you ask me. They mean so much to me, and it’s something that if I was even able to have something close to it in this lifetime I would be ecstatic. But this group is absolutely special.

“Out of my 13 years here, we’ve been to the regional tournament nine times. They don’t have to impress anybody else. All they’re playing for is each other, right now. In the community and in the stands, everybody expects a lot. But, what we have done, is we’re playing for ourselves.”

Weil got a little choked up when asked how much it would mean to him if the Honeybees can capture their third title in four years.

“It almost makes me cry. To be a coach, to do something that nobody else has ever done, would be extremely special. But, like I said, we’re playing for each other, we’re playing for our town, our high school but — mainly ourselves. We win this one, this one’s for us. They know that.”

BEATRIS CHAVARRIA

On playing together for so long:

“On the field, we work so good together and then off the field it’s like we’re a family — we’re sisters. I don’t see them as my teammates or my friends. I see them as my family and I’ve been with them for the longest time ever so playing with them just brings a lot of inspiration to us playing for not just us but the girls coming up and for coach Weil as well because he’s been there for us.”

On what a third title would mean:

“The first time we won it, it was more like, not a surprise, but it was more like a shocking factor. Then the second time, it was more like we need to prove ourselves again. So this time, going into it, it’s going to be like doing it for ourselves and finishing off what we started.”

HALEIGH BEAM

On the team’s togetherness:

“The bond that we have and the way we play together really shows because we know what everyone’s doing and we know how everybody plays. We’re good at encouraging each other and building each other back up. We never get mad at each other.

“We know the potential that everybody can play at and we know what everybody can do. We just make sure that we hold everybody to that standard and we just keep everybody on their toes and ready to go and encourage each other.”

CLAIRE CHOATE

Choate — who ranks No. 2 in the SHS senior class scholastically — on the long history together:

“We’ve just grown so much from the time that we were little. We’ve had different teams but all stayed together, and different coaches and we’ve just learned so much from everybody.

“I just want us to really enjoy this last year because for most of us it’s our senior year and so with the team it’s so special. We have the opportunity to win another one and it’s just so special because a lot of it comes from just us being so close and our friendships and how we’ve just grown together.”

COURTNEY LANGLEY

On playing together for so long:

“It’s really amazing. I feel like it’s a whole new family. I feel very confident in each of my team players. I know what they can do. It’s definitely going to take a lot of hard work (to win state again), I know for sure.”

On the team becoming humble as a result of the 2018 playoff loss:

“That year definitely put us more down to earth. You can’t assume (winning). We’re just so great together, and since we’ve grown up together I just love this team so much. And winning this year would just fulfill my high school life.”

CIARA JOHNSTON

On how the seniors know what to expect from each other on the field:

“I know exactly what Gracie’s going to do, or I know what Claire’s going to do because we’ve been playing together so everything that they do, I know. Because we’ve been together for so long, so it just makes it easier so I guess that’s why we play so good together; we just know what each other’s going to do.”

On the team’s balance between confidence and staying humble.

“We’re all pretty humble because when we got cocky one year (2018) and we lost. I feel like that humbled us. So like ever since then we’ve always been humble, because we’re going to get everybody’s best. Every single time we’re going to get everybody’s 100 percent, no matter what because we’re like the people to beat.”

GRACIE BALES

On the team’s success:

“It’s just crazy to think about. I feel like we were freshmen, we blinked, and then here we are, the senior class and … looking to make history. But I think that this year really is for us and for our sisters and it’s to show that a girls sport can make history even though we’ve done it multiple times, I think we want to go out doing it one last time.”

In addition to saying “What a good guy” when asked about head coach Casey Weil, Bales added, “He took his ideas and he took our ideas, and he put them together. He’s taught us a lot of soccer. He says that, ‘Y’all are already so good; I want y’all to be great.

“At school, and out here … he’s kind of like the uncle — you know, the fun uncle that everybody has. That’s kind of how he is. I’m so glad I got to meet coach Weil. So glad that all of us have gotten to come here and just keep that legacy going and I hope when we leave, it just keeps going.”