MIDLOTHIAN — For the first time in Midlothian Heritage High School's two-year history, Head Coach Gerald Slovacek and the girls' varsity soccer team are headed to the UIL regional quarterfinals.
The Jaguars beat Argyle High School 4-2 on Friday at M.I.S.D. Multi-Purpose Stadium and used four goals from three players to power past the Lady Eagles and toward a familiar foe.
"I knew that it would be a physical back and forth match. We prepared all week to keep [Abbi Neece] check. She is a great player that can beat many defenders one-on-one," MHHS Head Coach Gerald Slovacek said. "Our midfield and defenders — Grayce Davis, Vicky Reyes, Logan Ybarra, Tori Needels, Makenlee Mabra and Kayla Aston — did a fantastic job of making her work for every touch she got."
The (21-3-3, 8-0-0) Jaguars entered the District 8-4A undefeated No. 1 seed, one of the most offensively dominant teams in the North Texas region regardless of classification and the No. 11 4A girls' soccer team per the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
Midlothian Heritage, with the help of goals leaders Kendall Shirley and Leah Chancey and assist leaders Brittiney Gardner and Vicky Reyes, scored 64 goals and allowed eight during the 2016-17 season. It outscored its last five opponents 32-7.
Five of the seven allowed goals during that stretch came against Alvarado High School, the District 8-4A No. 2 seed that lost to 2015-16 regional semifinalist Melissa High School in Friday's area round matchup. Midlothian Heritage lost 6-0 to Melissa in the area round during last season's playoffs.
According to MaxPreps standings and statistics, the Jaguars production, as well as their -4.0 strength of schedule, made them the No. 171 team in the UIL 4A, 5A and 6A classifications.
Argyle, at 17-2-4 overall and 6-1-1 in District 5-4A, was No. 7 in the TGCA State Poll.
The Lady Eagles, with help from a 30-yard shot from Anna Sheridan, struck first in the seventh minute of the game. Twenty-two minutes later and before the halftime horn, Midlothian Heritage found its footing.
"We talked about staying in the moment and not getting too high or low," Slovacek said. "Before the game, I challenged them to stay even emotionally with no peaks and valleys. I told them to play every second with the same intensity and mindset."
The Jaguars evened the score 1-1 in the first half courtesy of a Gardner net slam inside the six-yard box off an Amiya Guynes cross-field assist in the 29th minute of the match.
Midlothian Heritage pushed the lead to a one-goal advantage after Reyes' assist and Ybarra's header in the 49th minute. Shirley scored a goal four minutes letter on a long-ball pass from Davis.
Neece, an Argyle senior and University of Arkansas signee, scored her first and only goal in the match's 65th minute, pulling both she and the Lady Eagles within one with her shifting 20-yard blast.
"Everyone was so excited and speechless when it happened Kendall scored," said Reyes, one of the team's two seniors, about taking a two-goal lead going into the final stretch of the game. "What helped us rally after [Neece's] goal was that we just kept each other focused and knew we had to keep fighting if we wanted to win. It was all about playing for each other and never giving up."
Gardner's goal — a rebound and score in the six-yard box in the 66th minute — may have been the perfect description of the Jaguars' tenacity. It was the match's final goal and sealed the first regional quarterfinal berth in Midlothian Heritage soccer history.
Slovacek said overcoming the late-game rush from the No. 7 team in the state may have been the lesson they needed to learn to find a way to the regional tournament and past their regional quarterfinal round opponent.
"We needed to see a team that challenged us and played at a fast pace," he said. "We played them earlier in the year in a similar style match and played to a 3-3 draw. This is exactly the type of match we expected. There was no time to take a breath and it was 100 mph from start to finish. My girls stepped up big time and were up to the challenge. That pressure will help prepare us for the nest round versus Kennedale (High School)."
Midlothian Heritage will face Kennedale High School at 6 p.m. Friday at R.L. Anderson Stadium in Mansfield. The Jaguar girls' venue is only six miles away from where the Jaguar boys' football team fell to Kennedale's Wildcats 49-47 during the Nov. 25 UIL 4A regional quarterfinal round.
Kennedale, which moved to District 5-4A after the last April UIL district realignment, beat the Jaguars 8-1 and 13-0 last season. The Lady Wildcats are also their district's undefeated No. 1 seed and the TGCA No. 1 team.
"I tell them all the time that if we play our brand of soccer, we can compete with any team in 4A soccer," Slovacek said. "But until you go out and do it against the best teams, it's just coach speak. They proved they could do it and in a big match, no less. The match is a quick turn around against a quality program with a proven coach, It will be an enormous challenge for our team, but we'll approach this match the same way we approached the Argyle game — stay in the moment, play with a passion and play as a team. This is a new year, we are up for the challenge and I believe in these girls and what they can do."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.