If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
Robert E. Lee girls soccer is taking that to the extreme to start its 2016 season. The Lady Raiders once again are participating in the National Elite Prep Showcase in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Lee opens its season at Southlake Carroll at 3 p.m. Thursday at Dragon Stadium. SLC is not just ranked No. 1 in Class 6A to start the season, but the Lady Dragons are ranked No. 1 in the nation according to the National Fab 50 Winter Soccer Rankings.
REL faces Colleyville Heritage and Lubbock Monterey on Friday before finishing up against another perennial power, Flower Mound Marcus, on Saturday. Marcus is ranked No. 36 in the nation.
"It's a little bit of a difficult draw," REL coach Chris Woodard said. "That is going to be a tough one. I don't know if we're 100 percent ready to face a team like Southlake, but it will give us an idea of where we are and show us the bar that we want to get to."
REL returned to the postseason last year after a two-year absence, but were promptly dismissed by Waco Midway 7-0 in the bi-district round. The Lady Raiders return nine starters and REL has already exacted a little revenge by defeating Midway 1-0 last week in a scrimmage and topped Pine Tree 4-1 in another scrimmage.
"We have a lot of upperclassmen now who started for as sophomores," Woodard said. "We also have a couple ninth graders who started for us last year and they are a year older. We're definitely better than we've been the last few years."
The Lady Raiders will employ a 4-3-3 formation, starting up top with returning all-district and All-East Texas forwards Alex Bice and Kourtney Hitchcock. They are joined by freshman Carly Wyatt, who has already made an impact with the lone goal against Midway, adding a goal and two assists against Pine Tree.
"We got beat twice by Waco Midway last year and beat them in our scrimmage, which shows we are heading in the right direction," Woodard said. "Bice and Hitchcock were our leading scorers and I think they are going to get some help from Wyatt."
In midfield are returning All-East Texas standouts Jazmine Navarro and Priscilla Rincon, both juniors, and returning starter Jamie Mills.
The defense begins with All-East Texas returner Marlen Esparza, a senior, and returning all-district first teamer Adai Urieta, also a senior. They are joined by returning starter Adrianna Perez, a senior who is moving from midfield to defense, and freshman Abby Tillson.
In goal is returning all-district senior Lauren Nichols.
The Lady Raiders face Whitehouse in their home opener Jan. 19 at Lee High School's Red Raider Field. REL's District 11-6A opener is also at home, Jan. 26 against Garland Sachse at Red Raider Field.
Woodard believes the program last year began to turn back toward the success REL enjoyed in the 2000s, which saw the Lady Raiders produce a lengthy run of postseason appearances and district championships. He is excited about what is to come in 2016.
"We've got a better chance of competing, not just locally, but in the Metroplex and around the state," Woodard said. "I think we took a step last year and we are going to be even better this year."
2016 Robert E. Lee Girls Soccer Schedule
Jan. 7-9 National Elite Prep Showcase
Jan. 7 at Southlake Carroll 3 p.m.
Jan. 8 vs. Colleyville Heritage (Gateway) 10 a.m.
Jan. 8 vs. Lubbock Monterey (Gateway) 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 vs. Flower Mound Marcus (Nolan Catholic) 1 p.m.
Jan. 19 Whitehouse (Lee HS) 7 p.m.
Jan. 21-23 Longview Tournament TBA
Jan. 26 Sachse* (Lee HS) 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 30 at Rowlett* 11:15 a.m.
Feb. 3 at Lakeview Centennial* (HBJ) 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 5 Garland* (Rose) 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 10 at North Garland* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 12 Rockwall* (Lee HS) 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Naaman Forest* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 19 at Sachse* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 23 Rowlett* (Rose) 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 26 Lakeview Centennial* (Lee HS) 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 1 at Garland* (Williams) 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 4 North Garland (Rose) 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 15 at Rockwall* (WSS) 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 18 Naaman Forest* (Lee HS) 5:30 p.m.
* - District 11-6A Game
Rose - Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium
Lee HS - Red Raider Field, Robert E. Lee High School
Gateway - Gateway Park Turf Fields (Fort Worth)
Nolan - Doskocil Stadium at Nolan Catholic School, Fort Worth
HBJ - Homer B. Johnson Stadium, Garland
Williams - Williams Stadium, Garland
WSS - Wilkerson Sanders Complex, Rockwall