DENISON — In their first soccer season, Melissa’s undefeated seventh-grade girls won a district championship on Tuesday, May 16, defeating Denison’s Lady Yellowjackets, 4-2, at Munson Stadium. Lady Card forward Payton Wallace romped for all four Melissa goals, two per half, continuing her high-scoring ways from the regular season.
“Payton is Payton,” Lady Cards head coach Manuel Avila said. “Those that have been around her long enough know that’s what she’d capable of doing, scoring goals. I think she had 18 or 19 goals in the five or six games that we’ve played. She’s won a bunch.”
Avila also noted how Wallace passed on a late chance at a fifth goal, sending the ball to a teammate for a shot.
“She’s not afraid to get her teammates involved,” he said. “… All the girls played really well. I was just proud of them. It’s the way they’ve played all year and they truly deserved this. I look forward to them just getting a little bit sharper and a little bit bigger next year and doing it all over again.”
Before the match, Avila described middle-school soccer’s introduction in this area.
“We put together a district this year with some people that we knew, that would make it competitive for all the teams,” he said. “At the end of the year, we picked the top two teams and they’re playing for a district championship.”
The six-team district included Sherman, Anna and Princeton, as well as Melissa’s eighth-grade team, which finished third.
Avila is also head coach of the Melissa High’s Lady Cards.
“I really thought some kids stepped up (today),” he said. “Macie Robertson stepped up in the middle where she doesn’t traditionally play and played really well, along with Haley Ellis there in the second half. Calli Tenney moved around a couple of places for me and played really well.”
Avila also had praise for defenders Liberty Chapa, Bobbie Brosamine-Norton, Jenna Newkirk and Mary Helen Richardson.
“They have played great all season,” he said. “Tonight was another one of those nights.”
In goal for Melissa were starter Savannah Smith and Anna Blankenship, who also played with eighth-graders this year.
“(Smith’s) been the goalkeeper for the seventh-grade girls all year and has done a fabulous job,” Avila said. “We brought in Anna Blankenship too … so I could get Savannah (out of the goal and) on the field. She played one game on the field, but otherwise has been in the goal the whole season.”
Wallace scored the game’s first goal about two minutes into the contest and broke away for another just before halftime. Denison cut the lead in half in the second stanza, but Wallace struck again with 18 minutes left to play to make it 3-1. The Lady Jackets had one more in them, booting in a goal minutes later, but Wallace got loose again. Her fourth goal came from the left, at close range, with 13 minutes remaining.
These girls play 30-minute halves instead of the 40 played in high school. Avila, who coached this win with assistant Steve DeLuna, noted other ways middle-school athletics are different than the varsity level.
“The mentality is a lot different,” he said. “Obviously, in high school we need to win — not necessarily just get better every day, but we need to prepare ourselves for the playoffs and district and what the future holds every time you turn around. … This is not the case (in middle school). Yes, we want to play well but at this point, the biggest thing for them is the learning experience, to learn how I am, how I want them to act and be. … It’s a precursor to what we’ll see in high school. Part of it is learning for us. We learn the kids. We get to build relationships early with them, but more importantly, help them grow and help them learn.”