MIDLOTHIAN — The foundation of girls' soccer at Midlothian Heritage High School became a little stronger after Friday night's 6-0 win against Venus High School at MHHS Turf Field and a Tuesday claim of an 8-4A District Championship.
The (20-3-2, 7-0-0) Jaguars' title — the first in soccer in the school's two-year history — came with two games remaining on their regular season schedule. The victory against Venus, though, resembled so many of those that came during the last two years of district play.
"Getting the win to seal the district championship versus Alvarado was great for the program," Slovacek said. "It was a physical, high scoring game and we gave up five goals to Alvarado — the most we had given up all year. It was disappointing because five goals are never acceptable in Jaguar soccer, but after that Alvarado game, I told the girls that I was proud of their resolve and the way they battled for 80 minutes. Venus proved what we could do when we defend as a team and continue to improve."
Slovacek's Jaguars have allowed seven goals in district and 28 during the season's 25 games. They are also the Texas Girls Coaches Association No. 12 UIL 4A team behind Brazosport (9), Salado (10), and San Elizario (11) High Schools and ahead of Stephenville (12), Sunnyvale (12) and Mabank (12) High Schools.
"They proved how tough they were against Alvarado," Slovacek said about the 8-5 victory last Tuesday. "The girls never dropped their head, even after Alvarado came back to tie the score 3-3 after halftime. Each time we were down, we responded appropriately and eventually pulled ahead for the three-goal win."
The nine total second half goals against their last two opponents may show Midlothian Heritage is always a lightning strike away from finding its offensive groove and turning a seemingly close game into a blowout.
While Marisa Chapa scored on an assist from Brittiney Gardner five minutes into the half and Vicky Reyes received a helped from Chapa two minutes later against Venus, Kayla Aston and Denise Juarez used slick dribbles to dart their way through the Lady Bulldog defense and to unassisted goals.
The high-scoring junior said that despite the statistics, she is only one out of a group of girls that can affect the game positively.
"I have been playing competitively since I was 11 years old and I've spent many hours practicing and playing both in-season and offseason, but There are many players on the team who can score and be impactful," Shirley said. "My teammates have been a huge impact — especially Leah and Brittiney in the midfield this season. We are a strong team who does not rely on one single player. You never know who might step up during the game and be a difference maker."
Kendall Shirley, the team's goal-scoring leader with 33, was one shy of a hat trick after nailing a pair of kicks to the back of the net with the help of Reyes and Megan McCarthy. In addition to the assist, McCarthy helped Shylar Ray and Midlothian Heritage pitch a shutout on the pitch — the fourth of their district schedule.
The win against Venus, which sealed a season sweep and kept Midlothian Heritage on an undefeated march toward district, may be more about the Jaguars' group versatility, more than one singular offensive entity.
Three players other than Shirley have amassed double-digit goals this season. While freshman standout Leah Chancey is second with 30, Reyes and junior Brittiney Gardner have 12 and 11 respectively.
Gardner is second on the team in total points scored behind Shirley and ahead of Reyes. She also is tied with Shirley for the school record in assists with 16.
"It felt good to earn a district championship the way we did and to know we became a part history together," Gardner said. "It's not just one of us. It's all of us. We're the first girl's sport at Midlothian Heritage to win a title. It took a lot of perseverance and hard work but it's all been worth it."
Sophomore Grace Hackney (9 g, 8 a), junior Katie Greer (6 g, 3 a), junior Logan Ybarra (4 g, 6 a) and sophomore Grayce Davis (4 g, 4 a) all have multiple goals and assists.
Gardner may be leading in the helper category, but Reyes is a mere two behind. More than the statics of how wins and losses judge teams, the latter said her newest district championship has a special shine on it because of the special group doing the shining.
"The moment was special because these girls and I have been working so hard," Reyes said. "We've gotten so close that we are like family. When the season started I had this strong feeling we would be district champs because of how good we did in our tournaments. It's being a family — all working together and making sure everyone is working for one another — that helped us overcome our youth and being a new school and program."
Reyes won two district championships in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons under the tutelage of her former Head Coach Sid Danner. The Midlothian Lady Panthers, an established powerhouse in the 6A and 5A classifications, finished the District 7-5A and 8-6A seasons a combined 24-1.
She is currently 13-2 in two seasons as a Jaguar.
"It felt amazing to win a third," she continued. "The difference between those teams and this one is the chemistry. There's never been a moment that we weren't united and or didn't push each other. That one factor has probably contributed the most to our success."
With games against Life Waxahachie High School, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mustang Stadium, and Ennis High School at 5:30 p.m. on March 20 at Lion Memorial Stadium, the aspect of focus may be the most important factor to how Midlothian Heritage enters the postseason.
Improving team defense and capitalizing on opportunities to score, Slovacek said, is a must.
"In the playoffs, every opportunity counts," he said. "We must put those in the net. We have not met our potential yet and I want us playing our best soccer of the season going into the playoffs. That is the challenge as we finish up the regular season. The focus is on consistent improvement — win or lose. I believe that if you are improving each game, a loss won't affect a team going into the postseason. We have to take each game on its own and learn from it."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.