An early defensive lapse was not near enough to derail the Waxahachie Indians on their way to a championship victory in the 13th annual Moritz Kia Tournament of Champions hosted by Aledo ISD.
The Indians defeated Denton Braswell (1-1), Aledo (5-0) and Fort Worth South Hills (1-0) to win the three-day tournament title over the weekend.
"Those three teams, they were all quality teams," Waxahachie head boys' soccer coach Seth Riley said. "It was good to see the guys rebound against Braswell, kind of figure how to fix and organize their stud and then take our opportunities. Overall, that is what early tournaments are for, to learn. We have some learning to do [Tuesday night]. We will see what we got."
Ryan Hay, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, scored the deciding goal in the championship match against South Hills on Saturday night.
Hay returns to the Indians roster for his senior season after he spent last season in the development academy program for Solar Chelsea, which bars a student-athlete from competing for his or her high school team. As a sophomore, Hay scored two goals and provided six assists as an outside back for the Indians, who won their first district championship in program history that season.
Riley noted the coaching staff has played around a lot with different lineups early on and finally began to put together one that will be used in district play and beyond. That lineup means Hay will spend a lot of time playing center back, a crucial position for the Indians defense. The Tribe has allowed just two goals since he moved into the new role.
"Since he has been back there it has been pretty solid. We were moving people around in that first weekend but going into this tournament we used what we think will be the lineup," Riley said. "Ryan, since he has been our center back, he has scored three goals on free kicks. When you can put him back there and he can still score goals and you can beat people 1-0, you'll take those games."
Riley explained the addition of Hay is a luxury, especially after losing a game changer like the since-graduated Rolando Nieto, who led the Indians to a 19-5-2 record last season with 21 goals and 24 assists.
Hay currently leads the Indians with six goals through their first six matches.
"It is great to have someone kind of fill that void while you try to find players to replace the others," Riley said. "It is unfortunate right now that we are having to play him in the back, but we can be strong in the back and allow some of the younger guys to kind of figure it out.
"We train our guys to be versatile and he is definitely one of those guys. If we ever need someone to go create something in the final 10 minutes, then we can throw him up top. Right now, he is showcasing just how lethal he can be in the back."
In the semifinal match Friday evening against host Aledo, Waxahachie received five goals from David Hernandez, Hay, Emmanuel Nwokonko, TJ Lacey Jr. and Crisanto Perez to advance to the Saturday finals. Austin Andrus and Jordan Beechum provided assists for the Tribe.
The semifinal match also saw goalkeeper Joshua Redding record his first clean sheet of the season. The junior followed with a second consecutive shutout on Saturday (six saves).
"For him, that was great. Josh has the confidence to do it and the guys have confidence in Josh," Riley said. "We had Crisanto [Perez] in goal last season and he was great. But we knew that we wanted [Josh] to take over the reins so that we could have Crisanto in the field because he is a great field player and he will play anywhere you ask. He is actually one of the better athletes that we have."
"[...] Overall, with Josh, it has been great," Riley added. "Plus, being a tall kid, he gives us even more size in the box when it comes to set pieces, and he has come up with some really big saves for us already this year, especially in the PK shootouts."
Day one at Bearcat Stadium on Thursday pitted the Indians against Denton Braswell, who scored in the opening minute to take an early 1-0 lead.
"The guys just weren't ready. [Braswell] took a quick corner and we were still trying to get into game mode," Riley said of the lone goal allowed in the tournament.
Waxahachie eventually received a first-half goal from Crisanto Perez to knot the match.
The Indians then battle the Bengals through a scoreless second half and defeated the opposing side in penalty kicks, 4-2, for the 2-1 victory. All four Indians who took a PK scored, while Redding provided the two deciding blocks in goal to seal the win.
"We have full confidence in Josh," Riley added, "and he has already proven that he is more than capable in PKs. If we get a PK in a live game, we feel confident that we are going to block it about 75-80 percent of the time. What that does is, as a defender, if you make a mistake you know that Josh is there and Josh is going to save us."
The tournament run improved the Indians to 4-1-1 on the season ahead of a home match Tuesday against Mansfield Legacy.
The Indians continued their winning ways on the soccer pitch Tuesday by handing Mansfield Legacy its first loss of the season.
TJ Lacey Jr recorded the two Waxahachie goals, one on an assist by junior Jordan Beechum, for the 2-0 victory. The win marked the third consecutive shutout recorded by junior goalkeeper Joshua Redding.
Waxahachie will now take seven days off and return to action at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22 at home against Corsicana.
Waxahachie has outscored the opposition 21-6 thus far on the season.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith