WAXAHACHIE — For a program just five years older than its current senior class, the Waxahachie Indian soccer team is on the cusp of rewriting its own history books — again.

On paper, third-year head coach Seth Riley thinks his team will be one of the most dangerous in District 10-5A. The Indians return all of their core, nine starters, add a highly-skilled and accomplished club threat, and possess a fire left from last year’s UIL 5A Area Championship loss to a defending state champion.

“We have a lot of expectations, but rightfully so. They have earned those expectations,” Riley said. “I’ve told them that just because the expectations rose, they shouldn’t feel more pressure but should have more confidence. When there are higher expectations on you, that means you have earned something and that is called respect. For the first time, we are being respected.”

During the first half of the 2016 season, the Indians defeated Alamo Heights and Lake Ridge — handing both teams their first regular season loss in two years.

During District 10-5A play, the Indians finished fourth and locked into a coveted playoff spot. However, there was a legitimate shot at a second — or even first — place finish up until the final week and a half of the season.

With three games to play in the regular season, Waxahachie dropped a crucial road tilt against Lake Ridge, 3-2. The Indians bounced back to win their final two district matches but finished one-point out of the second spot in the district standings.

The result of their No. 4 seed was a Bi-District matchup with South Oak Cliff and one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s leading goal scorers.

For the first 20 minutes, Riley said his team was focused on adjusting to the Golden Bears’ style of play. From then on, the Indians were focused on winning the first Bi-District Championship in the 22-year history of the Waxahachie boys’ soccer program. The playoff appearance was the eighth for the Indians.

Then, against defending 5A State Champion Lufkin, the Indians fell on the eighth penalty kick. The Panthers bowed out of the postseason in the following round against District 10-5A Champion Lake Ridge, 1-0.

“We are all excited. We have been excited for this season since we got out of the playoffs. We were excited two years ago when a lot of these guys were sophomores. […] We hate waiting. We know what we have, and we just want to go. When you know what you have already, and you get so many guys back, you are just ready to get the next season going.”

QUICK, VERSATILE AND AGGRESSIVE

“We are still going to run a 4-3-3, but based on our philosophy and systems we can change up our formations a little bit,” said Riley of how his team is planning to approach the pitch this season. “A lot of our formations still incorporate what we expect out of our outside [full]backs. We try not to change our formations to where our normal role changes, instead we just try to change where you are at primarily on the field.”

Riley noted that last season the Indians often switched into, in essence, a 4-4-2 look when teams came out in a 5-5-1 in order to offset any unfavorable 5-on-3 matchups in the middle.

“We still kept the same roles, though,” the head coach explained. “The only thing that will change is that now you have two forwards, so their rules and where they run change. I just don’t like to change much when it comes to midfield or defense because that is the part that you would like to keep the same.”

The ability to slide a defender up at times is a nod to the versatility possessed by the Indians, Riley noted. Of course, the overall team quickness and level of energy the Tribe exudes also helps.

“We train the guys to be able to play multiple positions, and they learn multiple positions through film sessions or whatever it is because as a player when you have the ball, the way you play faster is that you should already know what other players are supposed to be doing,” Riley said. “Now, when you play that person’s position, mentally you should already know what to do in that certain spot and what spot you are supposed to be hitting. We are very versatile. A lot of my forwards are actually center [midfielders]. Some of my center mids, I can throw up at forward and we don’t drop a step.”

To further prove the Indians’ versatility, Edgar Nava, the District 10-5A and Indian Defensive MVP last season, scored the game-winning goal in the Tribe’s first playoff win in school history off a corner kick.

In fact, Nava, a defender, also tied with Jordy Ortiz, a center midfielder, for the team-lead with 10 goals in 2016. As a team, the Indians scored 49 goals in their 22 games (2.23 goals per game) on 43 assists.

“[…] We have a lot of kids who can cover ground quickly. I wouldn’t say we have a lot of speed, but we are very quick. We also play with a lot of energy that allows for us to use a little bit of that to our advantage to be more aggressive.”

On the defensive side, the Tribe allowed just 1.09 goals per game with Kade Tomlinson posting all seven of the Indians’ shutouts. Tomlinson, who took over in goal two games into District 10-5A play, allowed 13 goals in his 15.5 games in net and posted 103 saves (0.84 goals per game allowed).

“We had to make a change [in goal] and threw Kade in there and he ended up being huge,” Riley said. “[…] He has always been a leader, even as a freshman. All of these seniors were my junior varsity guys when I was the JV coach, so I have had these guys truly for four years playing for me. Ever since he was a freshman, he has been a huge leader vocally, which obviously helps when you are playing goalkeeper.

“He also has tons of athleticism and strength. Now he actually brings, not just varsity experience, but true goalkeeping experience. We are excited about going into a season and that is not something we are looking into. Last year, that was a hole we were trying to fill.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

With the Indians based on versatility, any player can make any play to win any game. That fact alone has Riley excited for the Dec. 30 scrimmage versus Richardson and Jan. 17 matches against former WHS Indians turned coaches, Jackson Almon and Thomas McNamara, respectively. McNamara is a first-year head coach for the Longhorns of Cedar Hill after a stint in Corsicana, while Almon serves as an assistant on the Richardson staff.

However, there are a few players to watch for — at least early in the season and that have not already been mentioned — that Riley is looking to help carry the load.

Ryan Hay, sophomore, defender

Unable to play for the Indians last season due to his involvement with Solar-Chelsea Soccer Club, Hay is “going to be pretty good,” said Riley.

“He will be a defender for me, but he is also probably one of my best forwards, which is crazy,” said Riley of Hay, whose sister, Sarah, played goalie at Division I South Alabama. “[…] A lot of times, people put their worst skill players on outside backs. We start with the outside backs. Ryan is a really good forward. He is lethal but has experience playing the outside back. So we will put him there and I think he is going to make us dangerous. I think we feed off of our outside backs, so why not put your best player there? Offensively, he is a huge upgrade because, obviously, he has tons of experience. We are excited to see where that is going to go for us.”

Tyson Beechum, senior, forward

Beechum finished last season with nine goals scored, third only to the 10 goals posted by Nava and Ortiz, and added three assists.

“He’s stout and he is a very strong forward with strong legs. He is physical and quick, and he creates a lot of disturbance on peoples’ back lines,” Riley explained. “He just stands out with incredible footwork. When you are talking about a presence on the field, he brings a presence. We have players that are just as good as he is, but he stands out because of his presence.”

Gamaliel Chavez, senior, forward

Standing a towering 5-foot-4, Chavez makes up for his stature with quickness and heart, Riley said. The senior scored three goals with three assists in 2016.

“He is like a little gnat and will break your ankles, kind of like a little [Lionel] Messi,” Riley said. “He played a lot of center mid last year, some forward, but he is deceiving. One of his best games came last year against the defending state champions, Lufkin. He was creating problems because he is so shifty.

“Presence wise, Tyson is just power and lots of power. But, then you have little Messi, Chavez, and he will deceive you.”

Roland Nieto, junior, center midfielder

Riley describes Nieto, who scored two goals and led the team with 10 assists in 2016, as a “smooth cat” with the ball in possession.

“He is a guy that we use to pivot the field,” Riley said. “He’s very good passing, very smooth and very calm. He is the guy who kind of anchors the attack and balances out the defense. For him, he is the core of what we do. He is smart and he is experienced.”

COUNTDOWN TO THE OPENER

Waxahachie opens with scrimmages against Richards (Dec. 30) and Life Oak Cliff (Jan.3) sandwiched around the annual Alumni Game (Dec. 30), which follows the first scrimmage.

The Tribe will then travel south for the two-day Alamo Heights Tournament, Jan. 6-7, in San Antonio, before returning to DFW for the Aledo Bearcat Tournament Jan. 12-14.

Riley and Company then play Cedar Hill on the road (Jan. 17) in their only non-district regular-season match of the season. A week later, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m., the Indians will make their 2017 home debut against Mansfield Summit to begin District 10-5A play.

Returning Starters Tyson Beechum, senior, forward

Gama Chavez, senior, forward

Rudolfo Garduno, senior, center midfielder

Kevin Graciano, senior, forward

Raymond Kennedy, junior, defender

Edgar Nava, junior, defender

Rolando Nieto, junior, center midfielder

Jordy Ortiz, senior, center midfielder

Kade Tomlinson, senior, goalkeeper

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Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

(469) 517-1470