Team of heart: Lady Indians handle adversity on playoff road

Published 11:18 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

PORT NECHES — Port Neches-Groves soccer coach Aimee Bates has been really impressed with her team over the last couple of weeks.

The Lady Indians (18-2-6) are coming off a 0-0 (3-1) shootout-victory over Class 5A No. 3 Ridge Point in the 5A Region III quarterfinals and now face No. 10 A&M Consolidated at 4 p.m. today at Turner Stadium in Humble in the regional semifinals.

Bates has been impressed with sophomore keeper Libbie LeJeune, who has made 24 saves over the last two matches.

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Bates has marveled at sophomore midfielder Atalia Garcia. She has knocked home the winning penalty kicks during shootouts in the last two playoff victories, the first being over George Ranch last Friday.

It is possible the most impressive performance came from junior midfielder Meryl Williams on Tuesday against Ridge Point. Williams was playing a day after she learned her brother, Carter Williams, died after a battle with cancer.

She not only played; she played great.

The Lady Indians implored a new strategy against Ridge Point. It was a defense-first mentality to slow down a team that had scored 34 goals in the last five matches.

Williams was one of the Lady Indians who really stood out on defense by getting the ball away from the PN-G net and LeJeune.

“We have had two deaths this year,” Bates said. “That is a major thing that you as a team talk and they rally together. I thought Meryl was super-courageous and brave. She talked about putting it out there for him. She felt like if she had missed the game, she would let him down.”

Instead of not being on the field with her teammates, Williams was there against Ridge Point, was at practice Thursday and plans to play again today against A&M Consolidated (16-4-2).

“She played the best soccer [Tuesday] she has played all year,” Bates said. “It has brought us together to be there for her. One player can raise the bar with effort. It makes me raise the bar and then the others raise the bar. Meryl did that Tuesday.”

Williams was visibly shaken at one point in Thursday’s practice. She took a few minutes to gather herself and senior Kayla Reed was right there with her for comfort.

Senior forward Mikayla Johnson said she was very proud of the determination Williams has shown through the hard time.

“Everything that tries to tear you down, you build from it,” Johnson said. “You let it light a fire in the way you play and the passion grows from it with the others. Meryl was on fire the other night. Just to see her play and be relentless, she put it all out there. Her brother was out there helping her because she was amazing. It touched my heart.”

Bates said to expect the normal PN-G game plan against A&M Consolidated. She said the Lady Tigers play a style of possession soccer very similar to the one the Lady Indians are known for in a typical match.

“There will not being parking the bus against this team,” Bates said. “We match up better with this team and we will go at them.”

Bates added the Lady Indians have never made it past the regional semifinals.

The Lady Indians would play either College Station or Kingwood Park at 1 p.m. Saturday at Turner Stadium if they win Friday. College Station would be a revenge game for PN-G after the Lady Cougars eliminated the Lady Indians in last year’s semifinals.

About Gabriel Pruett

Gabriel Pruett has worked with both the Port Arthur News and Orange Leader since 2000. A majority of the time has been spent covering all aspects of Southeast Texas high school sports. Pruett's claim to fame is...being able to write his own biographical information for this website.

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