By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Friday should have marked the end to the regular season for high school soccer teams.
The day, instead, was filled with student-athletes passing the time with toilet paper challenges, in-home workouts, a meddling dog and seated juggling acts on social media. And there are videos to prove it.
The change in the itinerary was not by choice, obviously. It’s in response to the UIL’s decision to suspend all sponsored activities through Monday, May 4, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The new restart date is far beyond when the soccer season was scheduled to conclude, as the state tournament was slated to finish in Georgetown on Saturday, April 18.
And there were a handful of teams in Ellis County that had a legitimate shot at deep postseason runs. Both Midlothian Heritage programs certainly have the talent to make return trips to the state tournament, while the Midlothian Lady Panthers have lost just once all season (and that was over two and a half months ago).
Another program destined for a postseason run is the Waxahachie Lady Indians, led by longtime head coach Jason Venable.
Venable joined the KBEC Sports weekly radio show, “The Press Box,” on Monday to discuss the suspended season. At that time, however, the belief was that the season would recommence March 30. That changed Thursday afternoon.
The season was initially suspended one week prior to the interview, Thursday, March 12, which landed smack dab in the middle of spring break for Waxahachie ISD.
The Lady Indians had two games scheduled over spring break and had already secured a 9-0 victory on that Tuesday against Mansfield Summit. That win officially secured a District 7-6A playoff berth.
They were then slated to face Cedar Hill on Friday, March 13.
“There was a lot of confusion on that Thursday,” noted Venable, explaining that Cedar Hill ISD had already made the decision to self-suspend all extracurricular activities.
“When it first happened, I thought it might just be for a few days,” he added. “But, of course, we’ve since found out that it is going to be a lot longer than that. I kind of just have to keep encouraging them and am trying to get them to work out and get ready for when we can hopefully come back. But, you know, we are just on hold until then.”
Waxahachie is currently tied with South Grand Prairie in the third spot of the 7-6A standings. The two were slated to face each other this past Tuesday.
Venable did note, however, that even if the season did resume and the match to decide the third and fourth seeds in the district standings did occur, “you never know what kind of shape the girls will be in.”
“We are all kind of in the same boat,” he added. “Everything is pretty much shutdown facilities-wise.”
The Lady Indians’ coaching staff, like many others across the country, have worked to compile at-home workouts for each of the players that should benefit the student-athlete if and when play resume. The coaches are also doing everything possible to keep the spirits of the Lady Indians high via daily challenges on Twitter, which brings us to the aforementioned toilet paper challenge and juggling competitions.
Peyton Renfro began the two-day social media contest by sitting on her hindside and juggling — by foot — a soccer ball 35 times.
The sophomore is currently second on the team with 58 points, trailing only senior Angel Garfias (72 points, 24 goals). Renfro is tied for the team lead with 24 goals and has 10 assists.
juggling challenge today!! @LadyNDNSoccer #ladyndnsoccer2020 pic.twitter.com/EsEuElL3uu
— Peyton Renfro (@peytonrrenfro) March 19, 2020
Renfro was eventually bested by freshman Amiyah Carter, who bounced a neon yellow soccer ball 38 times off of her black socks on the second floor of the family home.
Juggling challenge⚽️ got 38!! @LadyNDNSoccer ib: @peytonrrenfro pic.twitter.com/kvW3QgGeou
— Amiyah Carter (@AmiyahCarter5) March 19, 2020
Bella Curiel (15 goals, 11 assists, 41 points) then attempted to top the two challengers, only to have her pup barge in on the try.
It was a valiant effort — sort of.
Here’s Bella’s attempt……ZERO. But she challenges you all to juggle standing tomorrow! @Travis5mith @LadyNDNSoccer @NDNAthletics @peytonrrenfro @AmiyahCarter5 pic.twitter.com/7TdQoFMp7Q
— LadyNDNSoccer (@LadyNDNSoccer) March 19, 2020
Day two of the social-media challenge began with assistant coach Lyndsey Gaffney-Vera juggling a roll of toilet paper six times before sending it toward a living room window and, thankfully, not into the fireplace on her left.
Gaffney-Vera played Division-I soccer at Georgia State University and is a former professional member of the Georgia Revolution in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. She’s also in her third year with Waxahachie ISD.
Coach Vera challenges you all on this FUN FRIDAY! Can you beat her? @NDNAthletics @WaxahachieISD @LadyNDNSoccer #strongertogether pic.twitter.com/WOgLfCaIeV
— LadyNDNSoccer (@LadyNDNSoccer) March 20, 2020
It was ultimately Renfro who stole the show on day two. The junior went off of the right, left and right foot before going to the air for an acrobatic move on the fourth bump. She ended with 13.
toilet paper challenge!! @LadyNDNSoccer #ladyndnsoccer2020 pic.twitter.com/639xX8boXY
— Peyton Renfro (@peytonrrenfro) March 20, 2020
Not to be forgotten, and though she left the toilet paper in the bathroom, Carter returned to her second-story workout facility in a Lady Indian jersey to record 112 juggles of her neon yellow soccer ball.
112 juggles!@LadyNDNSoccer @NDNAthletics pic.twitter.com/r7ip55fP11
— Amiyah Carter (@AmiyahCarter5) March 21, 2020
Spirits were high Friday — at least on social media — for the Lady Indians. With a media cycle low on sports content, the Lady Indians participating in social media challenges was a welcomed reprieve from the current near-lockdown situation.
If the season were to end today, or tomorrow, or even the next, let us not pretend that high school coaches would be okay with that decision. In fact, we should all recognize just how heartbreaking it would be for those head coaches to inform their athletes — especially those in the Class of 2020 — that their seasons are over.
There could very well be no district champion. No postseason dark horse. No magical run to the state tournament.
It’ll be an incredibly tough pill for Venable — and all high school coaches — if and when the time comes to deliver the news of a canceled season to their seniors.
“[Senior leadership] is huge for us,” said Venable of the Lady Indian club that sits with a 17-3-3 record. “Three of them were voted as team captains and they are the ones that kind of keep everything together. The chemistry this year has just been phenomenal.”
As he pondered the thought of not finishing the season, Venable took a moment and then acknowledged, “This group has been really special.
“We are sitting at point where, if we had played those last three games, we were really shooting at 20 wins, which has only happened twice in school history and in my [27-year] career. It is just a real special group and the chemistry that was developed…We have seven sophomores, and when you have seven sophomores and one freshman that we moved up recently, those seniors have to really be on the same page.”
“[…] It’s going to be really tough because some of these girls have been with us for three or four years.”
Portions of this interview were first heard on KBEC Sports’ “The Press Box.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith