The Grace Community’s boys soccer program won its first district championship in 2012.
Despite returning half of that squad, coach Tom Alden and a stout defense have the Cougars in position to make it two straight.
Grace hosts Dallas Parish Episcopal at 5 p.m. Thursday from Clyde-Perkins Stadium needing a victory to clinch the TAPPS D-II District 2 title. The girls follow at 7 p.m.
The Cougars (12-6-3, 9-0-1 in district) have 28 points with two games to play, both against the Panthers, who are 9-1 for 27 points.
Lightning postponed the first game between the two to Monday in Dallas, setting up this home-and-home series to end the regular season.
That Grace is in this position comes down to the strength of the soccer program starting at the junior high level, Alden said.
“We’ve developed a pretty good program from junior high to JV to varsity,” he said. “I think that’s been the key to just keep being a strong team.”
The Cougars lost eight of 16 players from last year’s team, including district Offensive Player of the Year Garrett Pillsbury.
This year’s team is built around the defense, led by senior sweeper Geoffrey Taylor.
“He gets most of the credit,” Alden said of Taylor. “Zak Collum has been pretty amazing for us (at marking back).”
The Cougars defense has allowed two goals in 10 district games, both coming in comfortable wins. Goalie Marc Ritthaler has eight clean sheets in league play.
“He’s been the best keeper we’ve had in the five years I’ve been coaching (at Grace),” Alden said. “Our defense just doesn’t allow very many shots and he’s made some pretty amazing saves to get all of those shutouts.”
With that defense, the offense has created an absurd goal differential of +48 in district games, with senior David Fraga being a workhorse in central midfield to facilitate between the two.
Senior Reid Dollahite leads Grace with 16 goals and 12 assists (12 and nine in district). Kendrick Wong has 12 goals and 12 assists while Jordan Dyess has 10 goals, eight of which have come in district play. Alden said almost every player has scored at least one goal.
“We’re pretty well-rounded,” Alden said. “We don’t really have that standout offensive player like Pillsbury.”
The Cougars played 13 minutes against the Panthers before the first game was called off. Since then, Grace’s only close game was a 0-0 draw at defending TAPPS D-III champ Carrollton Prince of Peace (which sits in third), with wins of 14-0, 5-0 and 10-0 in recent weeks.
“We have so much depth, in those blowout games most of my starters are on the bench before halftime,” Alden said. “Our defense gets to go up and play forward. That does kind of mess you up a little bit.
“Our guys do a pretty good job staying focused from game to game.”
A Grace victory today puts the Cougars at 31 points, four more than the Panthers would have with Monday’s finale still to play and three more than the Eagles could finish with if they beat Bishop Gorman in their final game today.
Grace could also clinch first with two ties or a tie and a victory over the final two games. A loss and a tie or two losses would give Parish Episcopal the district crown.
The TAPPS D-II District 2 champ gets a bye through the bi-district and area rounds and starts the playoffs against either the second-place team from District 1 or third-place team from District 2 in the regional round. The final four is March 8-9 at Houston St. Thomas High School.
Lady Cougars crush Dallas Christian on Senior Night
All five seniors scored on Senior Night as the Grace Community girls soccer team beat Dallas Christian 12-1 on Tuesday at Clyde-Perkins Stadium.
Those players are Caroline Rook, Rilee Miller, Brittany Brown, Abby Pennell and Whitney Bane.
The Lady Cougars close out the season at home today (7:30 p.m.) against Dallas Parish Episcopal.