MANSFIELD — Before the first shot on goal was taken this soccer season, the Indians began to “Train to Reign.” The catchphrase took on a new meaning Friday night at Vernon Newsom Stadium after one of the smallest players on the pitch netted the biggest goal of in program history.
With just over 33 minutes to play in the second half of a 1-1 match, Raymond Kennedy hurled a two-handed toss toward the Mansfield Lake Ridge box. The ensuing Indian header was promptly kick saved by the Eagle goalie.
That was when Gama Chavez received the rebound off of his chest, volleyed once with his right foot and fired home the eventual game-winner from 15 yards out.
The Chavez goal, his sixth of the season, not only helped (16-1-4, 9-1-4) Waxahachie defeat (11-2-6, 8-2-3) Mansfield Lake Ridge 2-1, the dagger to the back of the net gave the Indians their first district championship in program history. For at least the next calendar year, the training the Indians did during the offseason will allow next year’s squad to “reign” as District 10-5A Champions.
“I didn't expect to have a shot that clear but I had it, so I just took it. If you wait too long, it's going to go away,” Chavez said.
The goal sent the senior sprinting toward his teammates at midfield as the sideline erupted from a mixture of jubilation and exhale. After the game, Chavez admitted that the enormity of the goal had not yet set in and explained that the celebration with his teammates was not about an individual feat.
It was not his plan for sophomore Ryan Hay to lift him into the air with a bear hug, nor was it even yet realized that the goal finally delivered something to his coaches — Seth Riley, Eric Davila and James Gish — that they never experienced during their Indian soccer playing days.
“I was just looking for a teammate to hug because they are all the same to me and they all mean the same thing,” Chavez said. “It feels good, but it wasn't just me it was the whole team. We all did our part. I just finished it.”
Waxahachie Head Coach Seth Riley said the District 10-5A Championship brought back a feeling similar to that experienced when the Tribe picked up the first playoff win in program history last season.
“It is kind of like that feeling from last year. We were just trying to do the best we could to get into the playoffs, and, you know, we were just trying to get that monkey off our back of not ever winning a playoff game. This year we knew we were returning some of those key players, or at least the majority of them, so it made those expectations rise to where we wanted to get that district championship,” explained Riley after the game Friday evening. “Now we have that monkey off of our back. I told them today it's not like a lot of teams, where winning a district championship is just part of what they do. This is special.
“Not to mention this district is one of the best in the state top to bottom, so it means a lot more to win this district. But then for it to be the first one in program history, it is just another milestone for these guys. And then being an alumnus and having alumni on your staff — top to bottom, it just means something more.”
But as Chavez and Riley pointed out, the win — both Friday and the district title — were a result of a team playing as a team.
Had it not of been for Kevin Graciano scoring his fourth goal of the season during the waning minutes of the first half to tie the game at one, the Chavez goal might have just been an equalizer.
With a little over 15 minutes to play in the first half, Graciano took the ball along the touchline and worked to his left across the goal as he battled and bodied a pair of defenders for an open shot.
“Kevin has struggled to score goals this year, but he got that one through pure hustle,” Riley said. “We are built not to give up on plays and we are built to fight for everything you can. And that is what he did.”
The win was also a reflection of the Indians’ stellar defense, just as the other nine wins and four draws were during a district slate that saw Waxahachie outscore its opposition 38-6. The head coach then said that his team’s ability to keep their shape defensively and prevent open looks is a testament to their mental fortitude.
“[With a lead] it is just about grit. It is just about keeping your composure and doing what you were supposed to do,” Riley said. “We just have to know that now they are the ones who are behind and as long as we are smart and keeping our shape, we are tough to score on anyways. So as long as we are doing what we are supposed to do, staying compact, and make them go through us, it is hard for a team to score.”
That defense combined with year two of Kade Tomlinson in goal also led to the Indians being the only team in 10-5A to finish with a single digit in the goals allowed column.
On the season, Tomlinson and company have just 10 goals allowed to 50 goals scored in 21 games. The senior has also recorded 18 shutouts in his 36.5 games in goal dating back to last season with 19 goals allowed over that span.
“Our defense does a great job of not allowing many chances, but when [Lake Ridge] did have a couple great opportunities, now Kade got to shine and show how good he is getting in position,” Riley said. “Some people say that our defense is too good, so he does not have to make any saves, but that is not always the case. He is always in a good spot to make saves as well. He made two good saves on some point-blank shots where he was in the correct position. His presence in the box today came up huge tonight.”
For the immediate future, Riley said he wants the Indians to focus on resting, recalibrating, and regrouping when they take a four-day break over Spring Break while awaiting District 9-5A to shakeout. Currently, the Indians would play either Cleburne or Burleson in the Bi-district round of the 5A playoffs. However, the district, which is led by Everman and Crowley, still has one regular season game to play next week.
"Right now we just want them to enjoy it and get some rest and come back fresh minded for the next part of the season," Riley said. "That is our main goal now. We just want to stay healthy mentally and physically."
Rest and relaxation or not, Chavez and the rest of the Indians are poised for another run at history and the senior said he cannot wait to begin another playoff run.
“We are ready, for sure.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith