In hindsight, there might not have been a soccer team in District 9-6A more anxious to get through spring break than Plano West.
The Lady Wolves’ parting shot before the annual week-long vacation came on March 3 in what amounted to the team’s biggest win of the season — a 3-1 blitz of nationally ranked Prosper. Not getting to build on that effort is what stung most for head coach Tara Martin, as that victory wound up being the final match of West’s abbreviated season.
“These girls are incredibly good and when they turn it on, it’s excellent,” Martin said. “Ending on that game and not being able to come back and finish the season just eats at me, especially for our seniors. We had a huge group of seniors who got a bunch of minutes and have been in the program for three or four years.”
One of those seniors got the ball rolling against Prosper, as senior Madison Tackett notched the first of three second-half goals by the Lady Wolves to blindside the previously unbeaten Lady Eagles. Sophomore Aisha Polk and junior Brooke Roberts, 9-6A’s co-forward of the year, added goals of their own in the upset win — one that kept West within earshot of a playoff spot heading into spring break.
“That was the first loss for them, and I know they had suffered some injuries too,” Martin said. “I remember talking with [Prosper head coach Taylor Baca] afterwards and he said, ‘How have y’all not won every game you’ve played?’”
The win put West (2-4-4, 10 points) just two points back of rival Plano Senior (3-3-4, 12) and even within reach of third-place McKinney Boyd (4-5-1, 13) with two matches to play. Martin hoped the emotions of a rivalry bout with Plano East and the adrenaline drawn from senior night in a regular-season finale against an Allen team West had previously tied with would be enough to make up that requisite ground.
“We started district play 0-3-3 and then in typical Plano West fashion we started getting after it,” Martin said. “I feel like over the second half of district that we really started getting some wind in our sails. The girls were playing like I knew they could.”
Weathering a rash of early-season injuries, the Lady Wolves closed the year with at least one point earned in five of its final six matches, lending credence to Martin’s belief that the team was rounding into form. It was a stretch where West began to realize the high expectations their head coach had for them at the start of the year — a standard that’s nothing new for one of the state’s most credentialed soccer programs.
West did so behind a balanced approach on offense, seldom relying on the talents of one player to carry the load. At the forefront of that effort was Roberts, whose all-district superlative came off seven goals and six assists as a junior, with Martin noting that many of her points came at opportune moments during the district play.
She had help from Polk, whose sophomore campaign resulted in three goals and three assists, while senior Noora Elibiary chipped in a trio of goals as well. Martin also lauded the work in net by sophomore Sydney Abouk, who took over following an injury to junior keeper Lindsey Depner that forced her to miss the second half of district.
While several of those players will get a chance at making amends next spring, West bid an abrupt adieu to a 10-girl senior class that includes a number of three- and four-year varsity members. That early-March win over Prosper marked the final time seniors Abby Arkwright, Lily Cooper, Meredith Eikelbarner, Elibiary, Ellie Lemaster, Ella McQuiad, Laralei Priebe, Erin Regan, Isabel Sample and Tackett will suit up for West, and several of those seniors have since taken to social media to post videos thanking Martin for her coaching and support over the years.
“It puts tears in your eyes and chokes you up. It made me pretty emotional, because I do feel like I’ve put a lot of work and effort into it,” Martin said. “It’s a love for the game, a love for coaching and a love for these players. Every single one of them has had an incredible journey over the last four years and they’ve been through so much of that together.
“I watched them over and over again. It’s those little things that put so much love into what we do as coaches.”
For all that West is set to lose to graduation, including eight players named to the all-district team, Martin sees plenty to build on between her junior and sophomore classes, as well as the potential for any new additions in the wake of the closure of the U.S. Soccer developmental academy, which had put a ban on players playing for their high school.
“Now that the D.A. is done, we’ve got whispers of players coming back and joining us, but who knows,” Martin said. “I’m excited to see how it plays out, but we’ve got plenty of players who can make some big waves next season.”