By Mike Phillips
Special to the Daily Sun
They jumped and hugged and screamed for joy — then hugged some more. With arms wrapped around each other, the players on Navarro’s women’s soccer team embraced the moment and each other Sunday afternoon, literally dancing on the field where they had just captured the Region XIV title.
“I am just so happy right now. I don’t even have words for it. There are no words for it,’’ said Trudi Carter, who scored the only goal of the long afternoon, a bullet that beat Tyler 1-0 and to give Navarro the region title and send the Lady Bullldogs (13-2-1) into next week’s District Tournament in Cisco. This is the seventh region title for the Lady Bulldogs since Head Coach Debbie Bonner and her husband, Aric, took over the program, and the first since 2008. It was one of the sweetest.
“It feels awesome,’’ said Debbie Bonner, who began the season with more freshmen and more players than ever before. “This is the best bunch of kids. They are so supportive of each other even though so many of them are fighting for positions. They are a special group.’’ Special enough to earn a No. 1-ranking in the NJCAA national women’s soccer poll. That’s what they took with them into the postseason even after fighting to a 1-1 tie with No. 4-ranked Tyler last week.
“When (Carter) scored I was just thinking, ‘It’s about time,’” Aric Bonner said. “We had so many chances and then we finally got the goal. I thought we were going to score in the first half. We had two or three that were just that close,’’ he said, holding his hands close together. “But you have to give credit to Tyler. It’s kind of the defacto national title game.’’
It made sense that the two rivals would meet for the Region XIV title and they did at Navarro, where they had a knock down (literally a knock down) title bout in what Debbie Bonner said was the physical game of the season.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,’’ said sophomore Judith Bast, a sophomore from Germany who is the anchor of the team. “We know that’s the way Tyler plays and we were prepared for it. We knew what it would take. The whole team played great. We wanted it so much, so much, so much, so much.’’
Navarro controlled the game (Tyler had two shots on goal, and a shot that bounced off the top bar) but needed to score to win. Navarro had chances in the first half, and then took the field for the final 45 minutes with a gusting wind in its face. It didn’t matter. Shanise Foster, who played a torrid game that had moments of greatness, set the tone when she fired a shot that just sailed high in the opening seconds of the second half. Two minutes later Carter just missed a shot wide, and then Foster came close to a goal, but her shot betrayed her slipping just to the left. But the tone was set. Navarro was coming — wind or no wind.
“Somehow we get them re-focused at halftime and in the second half they always come out with a new level of energy,’’ Aric Bonner said.
Finally, about 19 minutes into the second half, the goal finally came.
Melina Prado started the play of the day when she moved up field and just after crossing midfield, sent a long pass to her left, where she saw Carter. It was a Prado cross to Carter in the final minutes of regulation in last week’s showdown against Tyler that sent the game into OT. And it was Prado to Carter again Sunday as Carter took the pass on the left side about 20 yards out and made two quick steps before firing the ball into the right corner of the net with 26:03 left in the game. There was one defender near her, Tyler’s Kiki Recinos, but she wasn’t quick enough to catch Carter, who has lightning in her step and thunder in her foot.
Just like in last week’s tie, Tyler had marked Carter during the entire game, and Moria Phillips was all over Carter in a pushing, shoving, holding saga all day.
“She was holding me all day,’’ said Carter, wrapping her arms tight to demonstrate. “She was on me. She beat me up pretty good. But I don’t feel any pain right now. I’m just happy. We had to beat them.’’
Carter said she knew sooner or later she would get an opening, even if it was a just glimpse of daylight.
“I just kept thinking if I get one cup of breath I can score and help my team win,’’ Carter said.
After the goal, Navarro, which saw brilliant efforts from defender Lexi Riggs, Morgan Nutley and goalie Kenia Medina, who made an eye-popping, leaping left-handed save from a shot by Lindsey Jones early in the second half, controlled the rest of the day before storming the field in celebration.
Tyler (16-3-1) will forever hate the image of Prado to Carter. The Apaches won 16 of the 17 games they didn’t play Navarro.
“It was the same as last week,’’ Prado said smiling . “I saw Trudi and I knew if I got the ball to her she would score. When she scored I just said, ‘Yes!!’”
As physical as the game was, the Lady Bulldogs kept control with crisp, sharp passing, creating space and dominating the play on the field, frustrating Tyler time and time again wit a lot of poise and savvy.
“I was real proud of the way they were composed throughout the game,’’ Bonner said. “It was a very physical match. That’s their (Tyler) game. But we controlled the game. I was proud of how well they controlled the game. The passing was right on. You can’t tell I love these kids, can you?’’
Carter said she wants a national title for Bonner.
“I really want to win it for my coach,’’ she said. “She has never won a national title, and I want to win it for her.’’
The region title is wrapped up and now it’s on to the district tournament, where Navarro will play Hill Junior College either Thursday or Friday.
“It feels great to win the region title, but we haven’t won what we actually want, and that’s the national title,’’ Bast said. “Our time starts now. This is the beginning.’’