GIRLS SOCCER: Sheppard going step forward with Bulldogs

Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2018

NEDERLAND — She’s at it again.

Through 22 matches, Meg Sheppard already has 41 goals and 12 assists in leading Nederland within a win of earning a share of the District 22-5A girls soccer championship.

Three more goals, and she’ll match last year’s total … nothing that reaps braggadocio from the junior forward.

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“I just trust my midfield, I trust my defense, I move around and wait for them to give me the ball,” Sheppard said, “but first, I look for opportunities for other players. If I see one on my own, I usually take it.”

Her teammates, she said, don’t care that she shoots often.

First-year Bulldogs coach Aaron Tomplait didn’t get to talk to Sheppard much from the time he took over for current boys coach Keith Barrow to the start of practice, but he knew he had a star scorer who’s orally committed to Lamar on his hands.

“I got to meet her once before soccer season started,” Tomplait said. “Once she got into the period, she likes to have fun excepts when we play, and then she’s really serious, especially during games. Soccer knowledge is a big thing I noticed as well, and she’s someone I can rely on.”

Tomplait even asks Sheppard what she sees on the soccer field during a break in the action to get a player’s perspective for his plan of attack.

“That’s why she’s the captain,” Tomplait said, having given Sheppard the honor along with senior Madison Diaz on a roster of six 12th-graders.

Sheppard already has more goals through spring break than she did at this point a year ago, when she had 33 goals and 14 assists. A season-ending injury to Lauren Hughes, however, have forced the reigning 22-5A offensive player of the year to take more command on offense.

“Losing one of our top defenders, it kind of took on more responsibility because it meant I needed to work harder and move with the ball more,” Sheppard said.

But it didn’t keep Nederland from earning a key 1-0 district victory over defending champion Port Neches-Groves on Feb. 2. Both teams reached the 5A Region III semifinals last year and are tied atop district standings at 11-2.

“People had to step up, and with there being a new coach, our team chemistry had to be better. But Coach Tomplait has done awesome this year. He’s really bonded with us, and as a team, we’re all really excited, and we worked really well together this year.”

Not only that, the Bulldogs have just gained junior Haley Plumley back from injury.

Tomplait, who started the soccer program at Needville two years ago, has the Bulldogs off to a 18-3-1 start, sharing the district lead with PNG (18-3-3). And it’s more than Sheppard’s offense that has been the common denominator in their success.

“When we look at what we’ve done this year, we’ve only been scored on seven times this year, and we’ve only been scored on in district twice,” Tomplait said. “What really stinks is that we’ve been scored on twice, and we’re tied for first in the district.”

Sheppard scored four or more goals twice this season, against Port Arthur Memorial and Livingston, and recorded three goals each against Ozen and Spring Dekaney. She had three matches of four goals apiece in 2017 going into spring break.

Nederland will host Memorial on Tuesday to close the regular season. What happens after that, the Bulldogs can only envision making happen.

“I think we can go as far as we want to go,” Sheppard said.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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