GONZALES — There have been breakdowns written in the past of average distance athletes from various sports run in a single game or event. Soccer seems to always top it, with averages as high as seven miles per game. So you can imagine endurance being one of the most important traits in a soccer player.
First-year head coach Jerry Benavidez knows this, and has made this a priority for her young squad. And when you see these Lady Apaches on the team, you’ll notice that change.
The difference wouldn’t necessarily show itself at the start of the game. Rather, it’s seen near the end of halves, when players who have been on the field for 40 straight minutes are usually sucking wind, trying to survive the last few minutes before the whistle blows. The Lady Apaches, on the other hand, are conditioned for this very moment and will be at full speed just as they were in the first minute.
“They have more endurance this year, you can tell,” Benavidez said. “A lot of the girls don’t ask to get taken out because they’re tired. A lot of them are still giving 100 percent.”
“It’s a huge thing that we lacked last year — endurance and conditioning. This year that’s the first thing that we tackled right off the bat.”
Last season, the Lady Apaches went 6-6-0 in District 26-4A, good enough for fourth place and their first-ever playoff bid. They were trounced by Region IV-4A quarterfinalists and District 25-4A champion Liberty Hill in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
This season, Gonzales, La Grange, Smithville, Giddings and Austin Eastside Memorial move to District 28-4A to form a seven-school district with newcomers Caldwell and Columbus. Last season, Giddings went undefeated, going 12-0-0 in district play. They were ranked in the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches 2018 preseason regional rankings. Other records include La Grange (8-2-2), Smithville (5-6-1) and Austin Eastside Memorial (1-11-0).
Benavidez has done her homework and knows that the reigning district champions as well as the runner-ups are going to be tough competitors again.
“I’ve been doing research on both of them and it looks like they are going to be pretty good competition,” she noted. “Do I think that we can keep up with them? Yes. As long as we play our game, as long as we play like we practice I think we got a really good shot on competing against them and possibly bringing home that ‘W.’”
As for Caldwell and Columbus, the two new teams in the district, both programs are currently in their inaugural season, meaning there’s not a lot of tape on those teams yet.
Even then, Benavidez’s main concern is playing their own game. No matter who they take on.
“I don’t care if they’re playing against the best team in the state, the best team in the nation or the worst team in the state or the worst team in the nation, I tell them that their game does not change,” the head coach proclaimed. “They play the same every single day and every single game.”
The Lady Apaches will be based out of a 4-4-2 formation, meaning four defensive backs, four midfielders and two forwards.
“It works really well with the way that it’s structured,” Benavidez noted.
If the team faces a heavier offensive attack, the Lady Apaches may shift to a 5-4-1.
Other than their endurance, one of the advantages the team will have on the field is their quickness. Benavidez believes her players don’t necessarily understand how fast they are, claiming their speed will catch their opponents off guard.
“We just have to practice our touches while we’re running,” she said, “being able to use our speed to our advantage as well as keeping the ball in front of us.”
The roster makeup of the team is relatively young, with a pair of freshmen that have made it to the starting lineup. The first-year head coach also mentioned two or three sophomores that have been named starters in recent games.
“They’ve shown a lot of talent and a lot of progress within the past month or two, so I could only imagine how they play at the end and mid-district,” she said.
Even then, the team will be leaning on senior Fernanda Velazquez, a key cog in the offensive machine.
“A lot of the team looks up to her,” Benavidez said. “Yeah, she’s a senior, but it’s not only that, it has a lot to do with skill and knowledge of the game.”
The head coach also talked about sophomore Samantha Gallegos, junior Bethany Gayton, junior Mayra Granados and freshman Madison Cline.
“All in all, we got a good five key players that everybody has relied on,” Benavidez said. “They’ve been consistent and we need them to continue to be consistent in order for us to be successful.”
The team already broke through one glass ceiling by making it to the postseason for the first time. With a new head coach, young talent heading the core of the team and a renewed focus on endurance, the Lady Apaches hope to reach newer heights by not just making it to the postseason, but winning a few playoff games.