Not only do the Lady Jackets kick off a new season Thursday in Waco, but it’s the dawn of a new era for Cleburne girls soccer.
In July, Aaron Babcock was hired as the new head girls soccer coach for Cleburne High School and tasked with the responsibility of taking an already successful Lady Jacket program and guiding it to the next level.
Cleburne has qualified for the playoffs seven out of the past nine seasons, including a couple of deep playoff runs. In addition to that team success, the Cleburne girls soccer program has produced 11 players who signed at the collegiate level in the past three years alone. So the talent to become a premier program is there for Babcock and the Lady Jackets.
After their first handful of practices so far this season, Babcock said he’s been impressed with how quickly the Lady Jackets have adapted to a new system and new coaching staff.
“So far, they’ve done a great job adjusting to the new style and to a new philosophy as well,” Babcock said. “This is the first squad I’ve had in a while that bought in to a new coach this quickly. We are well ahead of where I thought we would be when I came on board.”
Babcock has 21 years of experience coaching soccer at different levels, including collegiately. He came to Cleburne in July after two successful years leading the Lubbock Monterey girls program to the playoffs.
While Babcock said he expects some early-season struggles as the Lady Jackets continue to progress in a new system, he’s looking for one big thing in the first few matches of the season.
“I’m looking for a strong work ethic [early on],” Babcock said. “They know that the results are going to be a struggle with adapting to a new coach, but I push them to be the hardest-working team day in and day out. If the effort is there, the results will soon follow.
“Our biggest area of improvement is adapting to change. Everything either has changed, or is beginning to change, within the program. It’s a lot for kids to take in.”
Through their initial practices and couple scrimmages of the season, Babcock is encouraged with how his team polices itself.
“Our biggest strength is our team continuity,” Babcock said. “This team pushes itself each day in training. The seniors have really stepped up to help the freshmen and sophomores, and it shows on the field.”
Cleburne brings back nine varsity returners off last year’s squad that went 15-6-0 and qualified for the playoffs before losing to Forney in bi-district.
Returners include seniors Brittany Applegate, Nichole Lares and Bailey Manuel, juniors Arlett Garcia, Tessa Scott, Lexie Key, Sandra Solis, and Tamara Reyes, and sophomore Isabel Vasquez. Scott was a first-team all-district selection while Garcia was a second-team all-district selection in 2019.
“There are several girls that I’m looking to lead us, and it’s a good mix of experienced and fresh players,” Babcock said. “In the midfield, we’re going to look for senior Nichole Lares and junior Arlett Garcia to control the middle of the pitch for us and to dictate the pace of the game. In goal, we have junior Lexie Key. And we have a few freshmen that have stepped up into vital roles as well. Defenders Samantha Vesely and Emily Lares will see a lot of minutes and up top we have Allyson Reed as a target forward.”
After a successful decade for Lady Jacket soccer, Babcock expects to carry that into 2020 and his first season at the helm.
“Our expectations this year are to fully adapt to the new style and take that into the playoffs,” Babcock said. “We have a goal as a program to still be playing in April, and to bring home a gold ball or two.”
Even with nine returners, including six who were regular contributors last season, Cleburne will be without senior standout Maci Geltmeier, who signed with Louisiana Tech University in November. Geltmeier scored 20 goals through Cleburne’s first eight matches last year before suffering an injury that caused her to miss most of district play. This year, she’s opted to sit out the season.
The Lady Jackets are scheduled to open the 2020 season at 11 a.m. Thursday at Waco Midway. Cleburne is then set to continue play in the Waco Midway Tournament at 11 a.m. Friday vs. Denton Braswell and 11 a.m. Saturday against Arlington Martin.
Cleburne will then compete in the Longview Tournament on Jan. 9-11. The Lady Jackets’ first home match is Jan. 24 against South Garland.