Gary Stallard/AC Athletics
They didn?t need a full-sized pitch for Tuesday?s practice.
Angelina College?s Lady Roadrunner soccer team spent virtually the entire afternoon of practice confined to a small area in the middle of the field. There, they worked on a specific close-quarter drill ? repeatedly ? as head coach Freddy Drago pushed the team for perfection in each segment. Offensive players had to create at least four touches before shooting; defensive players had to swarm to the ball immediately and try to disrupt the flow.
All this in preparation for the team?s playoff match on Thursday. The Lady Roadrunners finished fourth in the conference standings following the regular season ? qualifying for the post-season for the second straight year ? and now they?ll face the third-ranked team in the nation: Navarro?s Bulldogs, who upended previous No. 1 Tyler College for the top spot in the seedings. The win over the Lady Apaches helped boost Navarro from No. 5 to No. 3 in the latest polls.
Drago said his ladies know the challenge ahead of them, but he also knows how close AC came to upsetting Navarro back on October 13, when the Lady Roadrunners fell 1-0 after allowing a first-half goal.
The key to Thursday, Drago said, is to be ready from the beginning and keep up the guard for the full 90 minutes.
?We have be on our toes, we have to have our heads on swivels and we have to be ready for them. From the very start of the game, we have to be ready.
?We can?t be complacent, especially at the beginning of the game. We?ve struggled at times with giving up silly goals early in the games and early in the second halves as well. We can?t afford against a team like Navarro to go down 1-0 or 2-0 five or 10 minutes into the game, because then it?s going to an uphill battle we won?t be able to climb.?
Tuesday?s drills were more like what Drago hopes is a real-time scenario for a high-powered Bulldog team. With Wasila Diwura leading the charge, Navarro fired off an incredible 409 shots, scoring 61 goals in 16 games.
Drago said those drills are his team?s reminder to stick close to whichever Bulldog has possession ? especially if that player is Diwura.
?She (Diwura) is a very dangerous player. She?s a game changer,? Drago said. ?She gets the ball, and with one or two moves, she can get two defenders off of her and create a lot of problems.
?In these close-quarter drills, we?re working on our first touch and delivery with a lot of people around us, but we?re also working on our ball pressure for defending. We can?t let Diwura get out into space; if we can contain her somewhat, maybe we can limit their scoring chances.?
AC will counter the Navarro scoring machine with several attackers of its own. Jade Dewbre led the team with eight goals in 2017, and teammates Ashley Mora, Jerissa Grimes and Kennedy Sessions scored five goals each.
The previous two games against the Bulldogs ? both AC losses ? have shown the Lady Roadrunners what has to happen to pull off the upset and notch the very first playoff win in AC Soccer?s short history. Drago and his players hope they?ve learned their lessons in time to apply them on Thursday.
?Everything in their offense revolves around Diwura,? Drago said. ?The first time we played them here, we lost 1-0, and she scored the goal. It was a situation where our midfielder took a ball off her face and we just stopped. Diwura didn?t. She took the ball off the goal kick, took two or three steps and got behind our back line and nailed the back of the net.
?If we can contain her at all, I think we?ll be in good shape.?
Thursday?s game kicks off at 3 p.m. on the Navarro College campus in Corsicana.
The e-mail address for AC?s Sports Information Director is firstname.lastname@example.org.