SAN ANTONIO, Texas - This time one year ago, the LEE boys soccer team walked off the pitch on the wrong side of a 1-0 decision to Reagan in the Class 6A Regional final.
This year, the Volunteers are preparing for the program's first trip to the UIL State Tournament since 1997, after dominating the Rattlers to claim the regional title, 5-0.
"Winning 5-0 against our rival felt great," said head coach David Rogers. "It definitely was redemption for last year. We would have taken 1-0, but to get five goals? Nobody expected that."
"What happened last year hurt really bad, and it was a pain that I never wanted to feel again," explained senior defender Theo Gunter. "We did everything we could in the offseason and preseason to get better, and made sure that we could get past what we did last year."
"Ever since we lost last year, we've been waiting for an entire year to get back to that same position," senior defender Brook Williams said. "Finally making it through is exciting and a dream come true. You can feel the energy at practice and throughout our team. We know we have the opportunity to do something really special."
The victory over Reagan was a microcosm of LEE's playoff run: a dominant offense combined with a stifling defense. In their six playoff games, the Volunteers have scored 19 goals and only allowed three.
"These guys can do anything -- offensively, defensively, all areas of the field," Gunter said. "We've shown our true talent. There's no weakness on this team. We're all strong, all working hard, and we're playing our best heading into a high-level tournament."
Continuing that level of play in the State Tournament will be a challenge, but the pressure to perform is nothing new for LEE. The Volunteers have been nationally ranked in the top 10 for the majority of the season, and enter the tournament on a 25-game winning streak. The weight of that ranking and the team's consistent performance has provided plenty of motivation.
"To stay in the top 10, we know that every week we have to get better," Gunter explained. "It holds the team to a higher standard. We know that we have a target on our backs. We're not nobodies. Teams know we're nationally ranked. The fans know that and the city knows that. We have to carry that pressure into games, but once we get that ball rolling and the game starts, then we forget about everything else."
"I think the team that's most composed and doesn't let the nerves get to them is going to win," Rogers said. "I've seen some teams get to the State Tournament and freeze up. It's all about being yourself and doing what got you there. We've been battle-tested at some great tournaments, so heading into Georgetown, it just feels like another trip, just with a lot more on the line."
LEE will face Conroe Woodlands College Park in the State semifinals. The Cavaliers enter the tournament with a 21-3-5 record, and have won three of their five playoff contests by 1-0 scores.
"They're very direct, big and physical, but we feel like we match up well against them. We're more of a possession style of play. We like to knock the ball around on 5-, 10-, 15-yard passes. We feel like we're going to dominate possession and, hopefully, match up against them pretty well."
"Obviously, they're good," Williams said. "Every team there is going to be good. We're going to have to bring it no matter who we play."
"We've got to win two more games," Gunter said. "If we can lift that trophy, that would mean everything to me and the boys. We've been working so hard. This would cap off four years of incredible work and an incredible season."
The Volunteers and Cavaliers will meet on the pitch at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
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