GIRLS SOCCER: Elusive regional title in Indians’ sight

Published 3:41 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The wall outside the Port Neches-Groves girls soccer team’s dressing room entails the success the Indians have had over the past 18 seasons.

In each of the past four years, the Indians have reached the regional rounds of the UIL playoffs, making the 5A Region III semifinals in each of the last three. They’ve won two or more playoff games each year since 2008 (but had to play a sectional round each year until 2014 to reach the regionals), last failed win a bi-district game in 2004 and just won their 10th district championship (shared or outright) last week.

The standards have long been set, but for quad-captains Mackenzie Tindel, Jillian Flores, Kacie Wallace and Libbie LeJeune, this is their last chance to take the Indians further than ever before. The program has never played in a regional championship game that would earn them a spot in the state semifinals.

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“Every year our goal is to win district,” Tindel said. “It’s quite an accomplishment to get into the regional tournament. We know we’re going to do it. We have to take it game by game, but the ultimate goal is to get to state.”

PNG (20-3-3, 12-2 in 22-5A), which has won nine straight and shares this year’s district title with Nederland, will take on New Caney at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown.

The winner will play Fort Bend Elkins or Houston Sharpstown in the area round of the top half of the 5A Region III bracket. The bottom half includes College Station and Nederland, the latter facing Caney Creek at 7 Thursday at War Memorial Stadium in Liberty.

Should the Indians reach the regional final at Humble’s Turner Stadium, just maybe College Station or Nederland would await. PNG has plenty of experience going against both teams; Nederland and PNG traded victories this season, and College Station eliminated PNG in last year’s regional quarters and took a 1-0 win over the Indians at PNG’s Cajun Classic on Jan. 12.

All of PNG’s district championships (10 since 2006) have come under the watchful eye of coach Aimee Bates. (I.C. Murrell/The News)

“It was definitely a measuring stick,” 17th-year coach Aimee Bates said. “This was our fourth time [since 2015] to play College Station. The game could have gone either way.”

The game was part of a challenging non-district schedule for PNG, which has played five of the top 10 teams in 5A Region III, according to Bates. In the Texas Girls Coaches Association 5A state poll, PNG is No. 22, two spots behind Nederland and 12 behind College Station.

But the Indians have been one of the hardest-to-beat teams in 5A soccer with nine goals scored against them and 102 goals they’ve made in 2018. Flores’ 14 goals leads the team, followed by junior Izzy Volk’s 13, sophomore Breeana Riggs’ 12 and junior Mia Delgadillo’s 11.

“It’s definitely nice to say we have a high number of goals and low number of goals we allow,” Wallace said. “We say defense wins championships. We have to have a strong defense to play hard.”

Bates credits the depth of PNG’s roster and the goal-saving play of LeJeune in large part for the Indians’ success.

“She’s a brick wall. As far as penalty kicks, she’s firing on all cylinders.”

LeJeune has only played soccer since her sophomore year, but like her fellow captains, the volleyball standout has started every year she’s played.

This year is their last chance to get PNG into Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field, where the 5A final four will be played.

“Each game, we take it one at a time,” LeJeune said. “We’re going to give it 110 percent. It’ll be the last time, and we know each game could be our last game.”

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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