The last time a horn sounded on the soccer pitch, the Midlothian Heritage girls had just won the first-ever state championship in school history.
They then hoisted the team’s leading scorer, overtime hero and MVP of the state title match, Rachel Allen on their shoulders a few short minutes later. She was a freshman and is one of 20 returners for the Jaguars.
As they enter the 2018-19 season, the Heritage roster now boasts eight seniors, five sophomores, seven juniors and one freshman. For now, anyway.
“We have a young group of girls coming up and some that are on JV still that will help fill that goal scoring, potentially,” Heritage head girls soccer coach Gerald Slovacek said following the Jaguars home scrimmage on Dec. 27. He also noted the Jaguars had the luxury to move six underclassmen up for playoff run last season and most played “significant roles” during the historic run to Georgetown.
Heritage will, however, be without several key players from last year's team, including second-leading scorer Katie Greer (22 goals), Brittiney Gardner, Logan Ybarra, Kendall Shirley (missed the entire season with an ACL injury) and Tori Needels.
Gardner, Greer and Ybarra combined for 43 of the Jaguars 122 goals last season and 30 of their 98 assists.
“We lost some quality seniors who helped build the program and the year before we also lost some seniors that helped build it. This year, I think my biggest challenge is to replace some of that grit that they had and their desire to win and all of the work that they put in to get to that state championship," Slovacek explained. We just need to get these girls refocused and to know that it is not that easy.”
"[...] I am going to have to put some girls in different spots that maybe they aren’t used to playing, especially defensively," he continued. "I have to find out who my center-back is going to be because Tori did such a great job and played more minutes than everybody last year in the center-back position. That is really hard to replace.”
He projects that junior Makenlee Mabra figures to fill the position void, at least early on in the season. Mabra played mostly outside-back last season and was a midfielder in the state championship match as a junior.
She will also once again line up next to senior Kayla Aston as one of two captains already chosen by teammates. The tandem shared the same honor with Needels last season. Slov also noted a third captain will likely be named before district and that he has “a lot of good choices.”
Another of the key returners is last season's leading scorer and sophomore Rachel Allen, who led the team with 23 goals.
“She stepped up huge," Slovacek said. "[…] But there are others, too. For Rachel, that was her time to shine. There are other freshmen and other girls who are going to fill key roles for us. We had a lot of different scorers last year and Katie [Greer] was a big-time goal scorer for us, and Rachel was a big-time goal scorer, but I just feel like, this year, the goal scoring is going to be spread out a little bit.”
The Jaguars also return Megan McCarthy in goal, who occasionally split time last season but lost Shylar Ray.
Ray currently owns the program’s career record in saves (198) and shutouts (26). She also recorded a program-best eight shutouts in 2016.
“Meagan is our goalkeeper and she is a good one,” Slovacek said. He added that Jayden Barrella and Taylor Golden will also find time in the net.
Slov noted he tried to set up a tough non-district slate with Aledo, Red Oak, Kennedale, and the competition in the Birdville tournament. He also noted the move to 4A Region II will present new challenges, especially since the last four 4A girls’ state champs have come from their previous group in Region I.
The head coach also said he hopes the girls can learn “a couple district systems” before the district slate begins at home Feb. 8 against Life Waxahachie. He explained the Jaguars ran "pretty much the same system" all of last season and would like to at least have two in place by the end of the district slate.
“We also want to put the girls into different positions to make them uncomfortable to see how they respond with adversity and changing positions and things like that, that is all part of what I feel like I need to do to get this team prepared," Slovacek said. "I don’t want anyone to feel comfortable when put in an adverse situation.
"Just like last year when we were down a goal in the regional and state tournament when we were down a goal, I don’t want to put them in adverse situations and then them to have to figure out how to win.”
The Jaguars began the season over the weekend in the Liberty Hill Panther Cup. They enter the new year having not lost a match since Feb. 2, 2018 (v Princeton, 2-1), which is a streak of 18 consecutive matches.
Heritage has also won all 16 district matches over the past two seasons and 22-of-22 over the program's three years at the varsity level.
The 29 wins en route to the 2018 4A state title were the most-ever from the program that is a combined 63-16-5 over the past three seasons.