Aimee Bates, Indians have playoff hill to conquer

Published 7:06 am Monday, December 23, 2019

The Port Neches-Groves Indians have been to the 5A Region III semifinals going on five years in a row, and they have yet to make it through into the final. Last April, Kingwood Park took them out of the playoffs with a 6-3 loss.

The five-year streak nonetheless shows the Indians are consistently a playoff contender under Aimee Bates, head coach of 18 years. Heading into the start of the soccer season on Jan. 2, when PNG will play in the Waller tournament, it’s still a little too early to tell what her team this year is made of, though she sees signs of greatness.

“We make goals and we talk about things,” she said. “I think that if things go right, we develop like we’re supposed to, stay together and stay injury-free, we could be deadly and could possibly be the best PNG team ever. But it’s just early; we’ve got to get through those tournaments and we’ve got to iron out some things now.”

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The explosions of the TPC Group facility on Nov. 27 put a halt to PNG’s practice schedule when the school closed and evacuations were ordered.

“When school was called off we couldn’t meet anywhere, whether it was off-campus or anything, as a lot of those families got out because of the air quality,” Bates said. “We started and we had two practices, then we didn’t practice until the next week, so every team we’re facing probably has a few more minutes under their belts at this time than us. It’s just one of the things you roll with.”

The Indians have shown resilience. They had scrimmages with New Caney on Dec. 12 and with West Brook and Lumberton on Thursday. PNG beat New Caney and West Brook 2-1 each and lost to Lumberton 1-0.

The outing proved to give insight to how the team is shaping up, Bates said.

“We talked about this year trying to be even more possessive and keep the ball in an effort to arrive in that final third with numbers up and increase our goal production,” she said. “Ultimately we want to see more goals this year, and I like our looks and what we’re doing. Defensively I think we have a lot of great defenders. We’re trying to find the right ones that work together, but their timing is great, and they’re great in the air.”

She says she’s still working out the team’s makeup and who plays well together.

“I would say we’re still trying to puzzle-piece and see where our weapons fit best in the lineup, because there’s a lineup of girls that can play all over the field in multiple positions,” Bates said. “We’re trying to see who works best where and what makes us develop the most rhythm in the game and create the most flow, so we can win ball games.”

Among those players are three seniors starting their fourth year of varsity soccer. Halley Smith, Breeana Riggs and Kaylee Landry have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal because of their experience, Bates said. Juniors Grace Richard and Kelsie Comeaux are likewise standing out as showing promise.

Rachael Abel has stepped up to take the goal keeper spot after returning goalie Kaylee Hooper tore her ACL a couple of weeks ago.

“Abel is a junior and we’re seeing how she looks,” Bates said. “She made some great saves and I like what I’m seeing from her.”

Their season is just beginning, but Bates says the goals for both her and her team are clear.

“Their goals are to be the district champion,” she said. “Their goal is to get past that regional semifinal. My goal right now is to create some flow and play good soccer.”