The Waxahachie Lady Indians soccer team is ready to put back-to-back seasons without a playoff berth firmly in the rearview. They will soon have the opportunity to prove it, too, as the 2018-19 season is quickly approaching.

Youth was certainly on display for each of the last two Lady Indians sides, which both finished fifth in District 14-5A, often considered one of the toughest soccer districts in the state regardless of classification. However, the young side that took the pitch last season proved they are more than capable of competing and doing so at a high level.

Waxahachie finished the 2017-18 season 8-5-1 in District 14-5A and 12-6-4 overall. Four of those district losses came against Midlothian and Red Oak with the other coming against Mansfield Legacy.

The Lady Indians scored 38 goals during the campaign. Thirty-four of those goals were sent into the back of the net off of feet that will grace the pitch for Waxahachie again this year.

Savanna Duvall led the Lady Indians with 10 goals scored last season, while Angel Garfias had eight, Madelynn James and Bella Curiel each scored five and Alyssa Stevens and Danielle Kyle added two goals, each. Sophie Melick and Angelica Gutierrez both found the back of the net once.

Garfias and Curiel assisted on a team-high five of those goals, while Duvall, and James both assisted on four.

And they all figure to increase those totals this season.

Duvall was a second-team TASCO All-Region forward. She also found her name on the All-District 14-5A first team with Curiel (midfielder). Garfias, a sophomore midfielder, landed on the All-District 14-5A second team after her freshman campaign.

That team also saw just six Lady Indians graduate with 13 varsity players slated to return this season. It’s a group now laden with talent and experience to boot and also one that head girls’ soccer coach Jason Venable said he saw a “total turn around” from during the final five district matches last season.

Venable noted the group began to find “success, as they played lights out and figured it out” while recorded key wins against Mansfield Legacy and Mansfield Lake Ridge with four freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup.

But don't just take the opinion of the longtime Waxahachie coach as the lone voice of excitement for the upcoming season. Seniors Savanna Duvall, Sophie Melick, Taytum McDonald, Madelynn James, Alex March, Alyssa Stevens and Danielle Kyle all spoke with the Daily Light following a practice ahead of the holiday break and season opener.

“We have a lot of the same people as last year and at the beginning of the season, we didn’t have a lot of chemistry because there were a lot of new people on the team," Stevens said. "Now, since it’s basically a lot of the same people, our chemistry and grown a lot since last season.”

Duvall, a captain alongside Melick, added that bounce-back in the second half of district was “important because in the first round we didn’t do very well, but then we worked hard enough so that we did well at the end of the season and I think it showed that we can work that hard and we can do that well. I feel like it will motivate us to do the same thing this season.”

Two-time all-state goalkeeper Taylor Camp was among the six Lady Indians lost to graduation in 2018. She recorded 15 shutouts last season. Camp surrendered just 17 goals and recorded 51 saves against in 16 matches as a freshman at Hutchinson Community College this fall.

Venable expects senior Taytum McDonald, who signed with McMurry University in early December, to slide nicely into the keeper’s box in place of Camp this season.

“I’m excited to play with these girls and I have been playing with most of them since I was five,” McDonald said. “It has been kind of heartbreaking not being able to play with them in my years coming up as a freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. But, I am excited to play with them my senior season and to show them that we are capable of winning. We are going to win. This is going to be a fantastic season.”

So, with a nearly one dozen seniors but about the same number of underclassmen, how does the group manage to keep the peace and the group focused on the bigger picture?

March explained that the upperclassmen have a strong desire to continue building on the culture that was fostered during the final stretch of last season.

For instance, with Peyton Renfro being the lone freshman on this year’s squad, Stevens said the group has taken her under their wings to ensure she catches onto their already-established chemistry.

Venable noted Renfro “is a special young lady who works hard and will provide us a spark from a wing or forward position.”

Stevens added, “Our freshman year, we were the ones who had to get all of the equipment and stuff like that so we didn’t want them to feel like we were one group and they were another. I felt like that our freshman year; it was just us and then it was all of the other grades.” She noted it was then that the current group of 10 seniors decided to embrace the underclassmen in hopes of changing the culture for the better.

Venable has also recently added a new component to the end of various practices that he hopes will help restore a bit of the winning mindset that has made the Lady Indians program a force for well over the past decade.

The new program, “The Builders of Tradition,” brings a former standout player back home each week to speak to the Lady Indians. Natalie Kelly, Katie Hinds and Danielle Tessi, who all played collegiately, have spoken to the team so far.

The program also continues the Lady Indians "Tradition Never Graduates" mantra.

And, when asked who of the nine was most excited for the upcoming season, a chorus of “me” followed.

“No, it’s me and it’s not even a question,” James laughingly interjected. “I love soccer and it’s our senior year and we have a new district and new people to go against. This is our season.”

The 2018-19 season begins Friday, Dec. 28 with a split scrimmage against Haltom and Granbury. The Lady Indians then officially open the season at home with the three-day Highway 287 Tournament at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium, which runs Thursday, Jan. 3-Saturday, Jan. 5.

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Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

(469) 517-1470