Coming into the year, expectations were high for a Lake Dallas boys soccer team that accomplished more than its fair share of history in 2019.
The Falcons could not be stopped a year ago, a season in which they won a District 8-5A title and won four playoff games to make a trip all the way to the regional finals before falling to eventual state champion El Paso Bel Air.
But the start of the 2020 campaign was a tough one. Some injuries manifested themselves, players came in fatigued from the club season and the team just wasn’t as prepared and ready when the non-district schedule rolled around, still going through the waves of their momentous 2019 season – a very natural reaction to finding so much success.
So, head coach Brandon Martin – after a remarkably surprising 0-7 start in pre-district – instituted some changes, and the rest became history from that point forward.
“We had to have a reality check before district started and we hit the reset button to get the boys out of living in the past,” Martin said. “I took up all the trophies they won last year and boxed them up. I told them that the now-empty shelf was what they had accomplished, and it was going to be up to them to add something to it."
“We also began to emphasize the importance of having and showing pride in the program. Something as simple as reminding (requiring) the players to wear their LD soccer gear forced them to find a way to start winning so that their peers would see them in a positive manner.”
As Lake Dallas rallied together, so did the wins. And they came in bunches to put their accomplishments on the shelf.
Not once has the group experienced a loss since that time – with the last one happening two months ago on Jan. 17 in 3-0 fashion to R.L. Turner - and now find themselves at the top of the district for a second straight year.
This streak started with a 3-0 victory over Justin Northwest, the game when everything started to click and the Falcons realized they could in fact do it again.
“We were like, ‘Yeah, this is our season. This is it,’” said Julian Fernandez, Lake Dallas senior.
It certainly turned out to be “it”.
That game catapulted a stretch where the Falcons would win eight of their next 11 games and register three losses to come away as the outright champions in 8-5A. And although the season is suspended and they are unsure of if and when they will see the field again, they are thrilled of just how far they have come in the winter months on the pitch.
“We came back into it extremely focused, extremely prepared,” said Brock Pope, Lake Dallas senior. “But it’s a great feeling to be district champions again. It sets us up well for the playoffs, and we just want to carry that momentum going forward.”
Offensively, Pope and junior Anthony Patti have provided a large chunk of the offense. The duo has scored a combined 30 of Lake Dallas’ 45 goals – Patti has a team-high 17 and Pope has 13 – while Patti has the second-most assists on the roster (seven) and Pope is right behind him in that category with six.
And their efforts were witnessed in a most recent win over Denton to keep their unbeaten streak alive. Patti scored both goals – including the game-winner in the final minutes – to give the Falcons a 2-1 victory.
“They’ve done tons,” said Kaleb Irving, Lake Dallas senior goalie. “Patti – he’s really good with being at the right spot at the right time, sending a beautiful ball through to either Orlando or Brock, going to the offensive side. With Brock, it’s just same thing as Patti. He’s always in the right spot. He puts the ball in a great spot for anybody to finish it."
There is a lot next to those two as well, highlighting the unique bond and togetherness the Falcons boast.
Seven other players have at least one goal. Ten players have dished out at least one assist, including four with at least five and senior Orlando Castro leading the way with eight.
Plus, the defense and play of Irving in front of the net has been crucial in this run back to the No. 1 spot in the standings. Opponents have registered two goals just twice in 8-5A play – both of which resulted in ties – while adding three shutouts to the tally.
“If you look at our roster, we’re not the most talented roster by any means,” Pope said. “We don’t have the most club players. In fact, we only have about seven or eight club players on the team. Having that close bond and that feeling of fighting for one another and fighting for a cause, it really helps us and makes guys play out of their expectations.”
What it shows is just the ride Lake Dallas has been on, never once giving up and throwing in the towel from the winless pre-district slate to earning their way to the top of a tough 8-5A.
“To be back as a district champion after going 0-7 in pre-district is unbelievable,” Martin said. “This doesn't mean that our district was easy — we have some very talented players and well-coached teams in our district — and we could just have easily lost a few we tied and tied a few we won. The boys just started to play with desire and as a team more and more as the season has progressed. I reminded them of how it felt when we won district and each game after. The desire to get that feeling again began to bring them together more and more each game.”
Now they want to continue their journey and add more to the trophy case on campus, if the chance does present itself. They want to build on their trip to the regional finals and make it to state, hopefully coming out as the top dog in all of Texas at the 5A classification.
But they know all of the work required to get there and know that it must be taken one game at a time. They were nearly knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, needing double overtime to beat Saginaw, 3-2, before winning the next three contests to advance to the regional finals.
All they want to do is do whatever it takes to get there and stay in the present each day to make that dream become a reality.
“It’s about making state,” Fernandez said. “It’s been all our dreams all our lives of making state. That’s what we were just talking about is just once we get back, it’s just going to be grinding and grinding until we get there.”