Soccer ready to make a national splash from Pool C

Soccer ready to make a national splash from Pool C

By MIKE PHILLIPS   /  Corsicana Sun    —

Here’s the good news at Navarro.

It’s over.

And here’s the better news:

It’s just beginning.

It would be difficult to find a team that has gone through so much pain, so much frustration and so much head-shaking, how-did-that-happen anguish as Navarro’s women’s soccer team, a group of talented and determined athletes who are finally getting a chance to play for the NJCAA national championship.

The program has been denied a berth in the nationals for the last three seasons, and all three times the Bulldogs’ season ended in bitter, close and controversial losses to Tyler in the playoffs.

None was worse than last year when Tyler won the critical playoff showdown 1-0 by scoring on a handball goal that should have never counted. Tyler went on to win the national title.

That’s why when the Bulldogs play in the nationals next week in Foley, Alabama they won’t be trying to win the school’s first national soccer title.

They’re going to Alabama to win a title that felt belonged to them a year ago.

“We’re going with a chip on our shoulder,” said goalkeeper Maitane Bravo, who has ben one of the best goalkeepers in the nation the past two years. “We are going there to make a mark. We felt we should have been there last year. It hurt (to lose in the playoffs), but we know we are one of the best teams in the country. We know we belong there.”

The goal has always been to win a national title. That was the goal before Alicia Wilson took over the program three years ago and that was the goal when Debbie Bonner coached at Navarro. Bonner’s 2013 team lost in the title game and her 2014 team lost in the national semifinals — both times to Iowa Western.

This is Navarro’s first trip since then, but this team is going with a purpose and a burning desire to bring back the title.

“If I leave Navarro without winning a national title, I will be crushed,” said Maitane, who took last year’s playoffs loss harder than anyone.

The Navarro-Tyler rivalry, which is the best in the nation, will move to Alabama, where the two national powers from Texas are in different pools and could only meet in the championship game on Saturday.

Navarro opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday against Paradise Valley (Ariz.) and plays Iowa Western at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The winner of the three-team pool moves on to the semifinals.

When the Bulldogs got the news Monday morning that they won the at-large bid (a new wrinkle the NJCAA added this season) the players were together.

“They started yelling and screaming,” Wilson said. ‘They were so happy. Some of them were crying. They really wanted this, and now they want to go and represent Navarro. I’m just grateful for the opportunity, the chance for them to showcase their talent at the nationals.

“They’re excited,” she said. “This team is so close, and they’ve been that way since the beginning of he year. It’s the thing I really like about his team.”

That close-kit feeling of family extends to the field, where the Dawgs play a tight-knit game of speed and skill and quick and lethal passing that leaves teams in their wake.

“The best thing about this team is our chemistry,” said Paityn Bretzer, a sophomore midfielder. Bravo quickly added: “We believe in each other.”

The Bulldogs are 14-2-1 this season with both losses coming to Tyler in 1-0 games. They are the only team to beat Tyler, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation. Navarro spent three weeks ranked No. 1 after beating Tyler 3-2 in a game in which Navarro built a 3-0 halftime lead.

“We have to play our best at nationals to win it,” said Valentina Carvajal, who leads Navarro with 18 goals. “We have to play for 90 minutes the way we played the first 45 minutes in the first game against Tyler.”

Carvajal, who also has 10 assists, didn’t play last year after suffering an ACL tear in the first game.

“We’re all excited, and I’m really excited because I didn’t get to play last year,” she said. “It hurt last year, but this year we have it in our hands. We are so close. We have the chance to win the championship.”

The Bulldogs not only had 11 shutouts but they outscored opponents 87-6 this season and had 18 different players score goals, including All-American Wasila Diwura, who scored 17 goals and had 15 assists. Wilson said Diwura could have scored a lot more but that was so unselfish she gave up shots to set up teammates. Diwura, who is an amazing player, leads a team built on speed and that will be one of Navarro’s biggest assets in Alabama, where they have the ability to simply out-run teams.

Andrea Rabanales has led Navarro for the past two seasons in assists and had 17 this season while scoring nine goals.

Navarro can get scoring from all over the field. Megan Thompson (eight goals, six assists), Roneisha Frank (six goals, five assists) and Bretzer (four goals, five assists) are all dangerous.

“They are all on the same page,” Wilson said. “They are really playing together, and they know what it means to get there, because of what happened in the past. We felt we needed to be here before, and I told them that so many before them didn’t get this opportunity and we want to go for Navarro and represent those teams that didn’t go before.”

The whole teams feels that way.

“We are all together,” Bravo said. “We worked for this. We talked about it last year and talked about it at the beginning of this year. We knew we had one of the best teams. We knew we deserved to be there. We worked for this. Nobody gave us anything. Now we have to go there and have the mentality to win it.”