FRISCO – Pack your bags. Melissa’s Lady Cardinals are headed to Tyler.
The “Rose Capital of the World” is the site of this year’s Class 4A Region 2 soccer tournament -and with their 6-0 takedown of Carrollton Ranchview Friday at Frisco’s Memorial Stadium, the Lady Cards completed their long-planned reservation.
Melissa (19-0-2) will face Paris (19-11) in the regional semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday at CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Francis Stadium. Win that one and the Lady Cards will take on the Midlothian Heritage-Spring Hill winner Saturday. Not to get ahead of ourselves - but win that one and Melissa girls soccer will make its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
For now - and for the fourth time in program history - the Lady Cards are one of just 16 teams still alive for the 4A state title.
“All the way from the start, I really didn’t know how far we could go,” Melissa head coach Manuel Avila said. “I knew we had a talented young group of freshmen. I knew that we could have success. I don’t want to say I didn’t think we could make this run. It was a little bit of a pipe dream – and dreams come true. … You could tell towards the end of the game, the other team kind of ran out of gas. They just couldn’t keep up. We kept pushing and kept pushing and kept pushing.”
As she did in Tuesday’s area-round win over Alvarado, freshman Lucy Hurst bagged three goals and has now logged a “hat-trick” in each of Melissa’s three wins this post-season. Hanna Waters, after knocking home three goals in round two, collected two more against Ranchview.
Meanwhile, the Lady Cards’ defense has allowed one goal during this playoff run, with goalkeepers Brittany Morgan and Anna Blankenship ruling Melissa’s net. Morgan went the distance versus Ranchview, logging three saves.
As for the Lady Cards’ overall defense this day, Avila said, “We actually only had one mishap in the back, otherwise we were solid as always. You don’t play 23 games and give up six goals if you don’t have a good solid defense.”
Avila credited midfield defender Reu’Niya Chatman with once again taking away an opponent’s best player, this time Ranchview’s Alexis Neal. “She was fantastic,” Avila said of Chatman. “Once we made an adjustment, they honestly didn’t know how to play the game because they ran everything through their No. 17 [Neal]. And we eliminated her. That was something we had seen on film and we knew if we could take care of that piece of business then we could handle them.”
“I’m not going to lie,” Chatman said. “At the beginning of the game, I had butterflies. I was super nervous and I could tell it was affecting my play. But I think in the second half I stepped up and realized, ‘Hey, I’m better than her. She had better foot skills, but I’m a better defender.’”
As Avila was being treated to a surprise Ice Bucket Challenge, backline defender Jenna Newkirk added, between laughs, “You had to break [Ranchview’s offense] down. They were fast so you had to stay back.”
Melissa clung to a precarious 1-0 lead three minutes into the second half when Reagan Eichel boomed a 55-yard free-kick goal into the wind. The straight-on howitzer eased just under the crossbar and the Lady Cards had big momentum at 2-0.
Then, with 15:30 to go, the wheels started to come off for the Lady Wolves – and Avila perhaps began finalizing plans to tour Tyler’s Azalea Trail. First, Hurst popped in a header off an Eichel corner kick from the right side and Melissa led, 3-0. Not a minute later, Hurst slammed home a close-range shot off Macie Robertson’s assist from the right and Melissa’s advantage was 4-0 with 14:52 left to play. Four minutes later, Waters took a long pass from Hurst down the middle and put a breakaway, one-on-one shot in the net for a 5-0 lead. Then with 6:49 to go, Hurst pumped the “hat-tricker” into an empty net and this one was way over.
Waters’ first goal - off a centering pass from Hurst on the left side - gave Melissa a 1-0 lead with 15:36 left in the first half.
“We’re on a roll,” Chatman said. “I’m so proud of us. At the beginning of the season, it looked a little shaky but we’re doing real good now and I’m so excited.” More good news for the Lady Cards: Freshman forward Payton Wallace will be back from concussion protocol for the regional tournament.
Melissa last reached the regional tourney two years ago where they lost a heartbreaker to Stephenville in the semis.