Young professional: English boy, 10, with PA ties latest to inspire Indians

Published 8:45 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2018

PORT NECHES — Aimee Bates knows where to draw inspiration. She works with many of those who come to give her Port Neches-Groves soccer team pep talks throughout the season.

“They have that sense of community and Indian pride,” Bates said. “Second, our coaching staff has been with the girls since Nov. 28. That’s a long time. We’ve been motivating them during that time.”

The pep talks from PNG leaders including Principal Scott Ryan and football coach/athletic director Brandon Faircloth are apparently just one ingredient to the success the Indians have enjoyed this season.

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The way Bates looks at it, a little more pep goes a long way in a long season.

“What I talk about with the soccer team is similar to what I walk about with our football players about, having great discipline, playing with great effort and being mentally and physically tough, and that’s what these girls have done all season long,” Faircloth said. “They’re one of the highlights of the spring so far. They have a great program, they work so hard and we’re proud of them.”

Ryan, a former PNG soccer player, even talked about how to deal with adversity on the field after a playoff game when a PNG player received a red card.

But inspiration doesn’t always come from a person of authority.

On Wednesday, the Indians (23-3-3) drew a visit from a 10-year-old English soccer player who trains in the Brighton & Hove Albion FC Academy, or the club’s development program. Brighton’s first team competes in the Premier League, the highest echelon of soccer in the country.

The girls took a break from preparing for Friday’s 5A Region III semifinal match with Tomball (21-0-5) to chat it up with Joshua Hebert, whose father Bryan is a Port Arthur native. The Hebert family was just visiting Jefferson County when Bryan learned PNG was still in the hunt for its first state championship.

Bates asked Joshua some questions in front of the team during the break about his professional training — Joshua earns a 3,000-pound salary ($4,257.25 in U.S. currency), according to his father — and is winding down his second one-year contract in the Albion Academy. Joshua then showcased his moves and even ran against District 22-5A boys offensive player of the year Preston Riggs in a 40-yard dash.

Joshua didn’t deliver a speech, but when asked if he likes to inspire older kids, he said: “I think I do. It doesn’t matter how old, you can motivate anybody.”

Words of encouragement throughout the season seem to have sparked the Indians on defense.

The Indians, who have shut out 22 opponents, will take on a Tomball team that’s held 17 opponents scoreless running man-to-man defense rather than a zone that’s more common in soccer, Bates said.

“We’re going to need to be strong back there the whole game, but it starts with our forwards playing defense,” senior Grace Reed said. “The whole team just needs to play defense to be able to pull out the win on Friday.”

Said junior defender Ariel Muller: “We’ve had to be really successful. We trust each other back there.”

Each of PNG’s three playoff victories have been determined by one goal, including 1-0 wins New Caney and Fort Bend Elkins and last Friday’s 2-1 decision over Porter. Bates believes each match gets tougher as the postseason goes along.

Just one more win will get PNG into its first-ever regional championship Saturday. Two more wins, and PNG will have a date at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown for the UIL state semifinals.

“Sometimes, you need just a little more ‘They believe in me’ or a little bit more fight,’ Bates said. “In an 80-minute soccer game, there are times you feel spent, defeated and discouraged. If you revert back to someone saying, ‘Do it for your sister,’ that could be just the little edge they need.”

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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