John Tyler resumes its road toward a fourth straight postseason stuck between rebuild and reload mode.
A handful of regulars return for the Lions after a trip to the sectional round of the playoffs, the school’s longest venture in more than a decade. JT begins the 2012 season at home today versus Hallsville looking to ride the top of its lineup while an inexperienced defense grows up.
Abner Barrera, a senior midfielder, leads the Lions after earning All-East Texas and District 31-4A Most Valuable Players honors. Other key returnees include junior midfielder Porfirio Benitez, last year’s Newcomer of the Year in the district who scored three playoff goals; senior forward Jose Hernandez, who topped the Lions with 14 goals during an all-district campaign; sophomore Jose Valdez, a utility player coming off a first-team all-district season; and a pair of juniors in center midfielder Naid Pineda and defender Juan Cornejo.
“We’re pretty steady in the midfield and up top,” said fourth-year JT head coach Howard Story, who led the Lions to the playoffs each of his first three seasons. “We have a core group of players (but) in the defense we’re rebuilding. Right now we’re trying to fill those vacancies from last year.”
JT starts the season a week later than it hoped, although the Lions gained valuable experience from the exhibition season. The Lions won the alumni game against ex-players 2-1 last Saturday and also defeated Robert E. Lee (4-0) and defending state finalist Kilgore (2-1) in scrimmages. The alumni team did not feature JT’s most-famous product, FC Dallas midfielder and captain Daniel Hernandez.
“I looked at the field and said we’d had a lot of talent come through JT,” said Story, who served as an assistant under Demetrio Hernandez when his son Daniel Hernandez and the Lions advanced to the regional finals in 1994. “It was a competitive game and good for us. Someone asked did Daniel come? I said ‘thank goodness he didn’t.’”
To reach last year’s speed, the Lions look to leadership from Barrera, one of three tri-captains along with Pineda and senior Daniel Garcia, a sweeper who tore his ACL in a scrimmage last year and missed the entire season.
“Abner is the engine for the team as well as the sparkplug,” Story said. “He sets the bar as far as commitment.”
Valdez gives Story flexibility as he searches to fill in holes on the defense. Other players figuring into the JT attack include forwards Aaron Alonzo (freshman) and Noe Diaz (junior), and a trio of players competing for time at goalkeeper: senior Alex Andrade, junior Daniel Montoya, last year’s backup, and sophomore Luis Hernandez. Benitez and Julian Varona split kicking duties for JT’s state semifinalist football team.
The Lions mix non-district and tournament action before beginning District 31-4A action in February, where JT hopes to unseat district champion Lindale, a team it handed its lone league loss last year.
“We’re just looking for consistency and those players that are going to step up in defense and make their presence known,” Story said. “That’s the question, the five positions we’re trying to (determine). I’m the mad scientist trying to figure out who to put where.”
John Tyler Lions 2012 Soccer Schedule
Jan. 17Hallsville7 p.m.
Jan. 19-21at Longview#TBD
Jan. 25Lufkin6 p.m.
Jan. 27at Lufkin#11 a.m.
Feb. 3Chapel Hill*7 p.m.
Feb. 7at Whitehouse*7 p.m.
Feb. 10Athens*7 p.m.
Feb. 14at Kemp*7 p.m.
Feb. 17at Mabank*7 p.m.
Feb. 21at Lindale*7 p.m.
Feb. 28at Chapel Hill*7 p.m.
March 2Whitehouse*7 p.m.
March 9at Athens*6 p.m.
March 13Kemp*6 p.m.
March 20at Mabank*7 p.m.
March 23Lindale*8 p.m.