SAN ANTONIO – Last year, the LEE boys soccer team had their breakthrough moment.
The Volunteers dominated Reagan in Class 6A Regional Final to clinch the program’s first berth in the UIL State Tournament since 1997. Then, after a convincing 3-1 victory over Conroe Woodlands College Park in the state semifinals, LEE advanced to the championship game primed for their first state title.
That’s when it all went wrong.
Deadlocked with Flower Mound in a scoreless game through the entirety of regulation and overtime, LEE eventually fell short of the ultimate goal on penalty kicks. The emotions of that loss are still fresh in the minds of every current Volunteer.
“Coach told us that if we didn’t feel anything after that loss and we don’t feel anything right now, the game’s not for us," said senior forward Francisco ‘Paco’ Segura. "All of us feel that way. It just fired us up. It’s that burning sensation that just says, ‘We have to do it again. We have to go back there.’ We don’t want that to happen to us again.”
“This year we have a bit of vengeance coming into it," said junior goalkeeper Joey Batrouni. "Thanks to that experience, we know a little bit more than the other teams, and I know that we’re going to bring it home this year.”
The motivation was clear, but thanks to an assortment of injuries, early results were hard to come by. LEE finished their early-season slate with a perfect 6-0 record, but only won those games by a combined seven goals. The first few games of district play were also a struggle, highlighted by a 1-1 draw with the Johnson Jaguars on Jan. 31. For a team with lofty expectations and a nearly unblemished record, there was plenty of room for improvement.
“We weren’t happy with the way we played in the first half of district," said senior center midfielder Andrew Erickson. "We got goals sparingly, and decided that once everyone’s healthy, we’ll get on track and start banging the goals in.”
Since Feb. 12, the Volunteers offense has hit their stride, scoring four or more goals in seven consecutive games. Over that span, LEE has outscored their opponents by a combined 41-2 margin, culminating this past Friday with a dominant 5-0 victory over Reagan to claim the District 27-6A title. With two games left in the regular season, the Volunteers boast an impressive 17-0-1 overall record.
“This year, we’re more mature,” explained senior centerback Alberto Mendoza. "Last year, we were a pretty young team, but now we’re moving with the ball and off the ball. We’ve been getting a lot of goals, and it shows the last few games.”
“We’ve just gotten into the groove of scoring,” Segura said. "Our midfielders are great, and those are beautiful balls that they pass to us. It’s our job to finish it, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
“Everyone’s more together, more of a brotherhood," said junior center midfielder Henry Bowland. "We try to hang out as much as possible around each other, and we all try to trust each other on and off the field.”
The team’s bond isn’t a recent development. It has been carefully built, nurtured and molded through years of experience playing with each other.
“We’ve been together forever," Batrouni said. "Going back to club and Classics Elite, Henry, Andrew, Wilmar, Paco and I have all been together since the beginning. Just to play high school together is a great thing, and our chemistry is really what makes this team. It’s what makes us LEE.”
Nine games stand between the Volunteers and a return to the state championship game. That’s 360 total regulation minutes of soccer. But games and seasons can change in a matter of seconds, so the team knows that they need to keep things in perspective.
“We always have that end goal in mind," Erickson said. "We always know that practice is for getting back to state, but we’ve been trying to take it a game at a time, saying not to think about the games as facing a team. It’s about the way we play. Get better as soccer players and as a soccer team, and don’t worry about the score. Of course we want to score, but we need to worry about the way we play and how to get better so we can get back to the state final.”
The Volunteers will next return to the pitch at Comalander Stadium on Tuesday, March 17. The match is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.