By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun
— In case anyone was wondering what Navarro’s women’s soccer team’s record was in 2013, they can just ask coach Debbie Bonner.
“Our record? One game short,” said Bonner, summing up a magical season that ended in the national title game in Melbourne, Fla., where her Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker to Western Iowa.
On the brink of a new day and new season, that’s what still burns in the heart of this team.
“When we lost I think it was more of a shock than anything else,” said Bonner as she sat in her office and looked back just before looking ahead to the new season.
“They are very focused this year. They are trying to push themselves and really bond as a team,’’ she said. “They know they have to have everybody to be successful.”
You don’t have to say much to these young women.
The shock of losing in the final stayed with them, and they have all but vowed to get back to the title game and win it all this season.
The Bulldogs, who went 19-4-1 a year ago, aren’t just hungry, they’ve got all the chefs in the kitchen to fill that hunger.
The Bulldogs return six starters, and three of them are All-Americans.
All-American Trudi Carter, a lightning quick midfielder who led Navarro with 24 goals in 24 games, returns with All-American goal keeper Kenia Medina, who made gigantic strides a year ago to become one of the best in the nation, and defender Morgan Nutley, who was part of a back wall that left opponents frustrated and scoreless.
Medina did the rest. She had nine shutouts and her goal per game average was a stingy 0.66.
Melina Prado, one of the team’s captains, and Shanice Foster, who can be a force, are both back with the same goal that drives everyone on this team — to take care of that “one game short” season that lingers.
“It was so silent in the bus ride back to the hotel after that game,” Carter said. “We were in a silent zone. But when we got to the hotel we had to pick up our heads and move on. And we talked about how we still have next year.”
Next year is here. It begins Saturday on the road in Cisco. To no one’s surprise, Navarro is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason poll, right behind No. 1 Western Iowa as the two teams start the season the way they ended it.
Navarro has been counting down the minutes to start all over.
“I remember when we showed up in spring practice coach (co-coach Aric Bonner) told us that we needed to get focused now. It was January,” Nutley said.
Carter, who played for the Jamaican National team in the off-season, said she couldn’t wait.
“I was really anxious,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to go back and get my act together and do it for my coach and do it for my team.’ I’m more motivated. I don’t even know how much more. It’s over the limit.”
That’s how they all feel at Navarro.
“Even the freshmen are motivated to win it,” Nutley said. “They all heard our story and how much it hurt.”
Medina added: “They all know how much it means to us. They want to learn. They want to play. They want to win it. I’m excited. I think this team can do it.”
There’s plenty of talent, balance and desire from the sophomores, and the freshman class knows what this season means to those players who walked off that muddy field in Melbourne.
There are those who follow Navarro who believed if the field had been dry and fast that the Bulldogs would have won it all that day. No one ever made an excuse, but the soggy field did slow the game down.
Now the Bulldogs will start a new season in the sunshine, and the freshmen already are trying hard to fit in — on the field and in the mindset that Navarro has for the new season.
“We have some good freshmen coming in,” said Debbie Bonner, who is eager to see the new and old blend on the field. And the players from last year are really excited to be back.
“We were one game short. You have to rebound and try to get to the ultimate goal. But we have a huge task in front of us.”
The resolve is there to get back to the title game and win it, but no one takes anything for granted. It’s just the opposite at Navarro, where the players feel they have to work even harder this season.
“I think with this team we are not entitled to anything,” Nutley said.
“We have to earn what we get. If we go to nationals we will have to work hard every day.”
That’s the way Navarro begins the season, motivated by that loss.
“It was heartbreaking,” Prado said. “It just gives us more motivation to win this year. We can’t wait for the season to get here.”