Robert E. Lee girls soccer coach Chris Woodard is entering his 23rd year in charge of the Lady Raiders with many memories in that time. One of his fondest was 2002 in which REL took out nationally-ranked Allen in a shootout to reach the regional quarterfinals.
That squad was led by Sara Hernandez, who is now an assistant coach for Lee. Woodard believes this year's team could match or even surpass that group.
"We have got nine seniors on our roster, which is not normal for us; I think last time that happened was 15-20 years ago when my assistant Sara was a senior, and we were one of the best teams in the country back then," Woodard said. "There is no drama and I haven't been able to say that for a few years. There is something nice in having a bunch of girls who get a long and everyone is working hard and don't complain a lot. They are older and want to win games, so it's refreshing."
Lee's first opportunity to win games is Thursday at The Woodlands Lady Highlander Invitational. The Lady Raiders open against Clear Creek at 3 p.m. at Moore Stadium in Conroe.
REL will face Houston Bellaire at 5 p.m. Friday with a matchup against San Antonio O'Connor at 3 p.m. Saturday at Gosling Sports Complex in Conroe.
The Lady Raiders were stopped in the first round of the playoffs last year 1-0 by then unbeaten Waco Midway to finish the season 10-8-5. REL faced Midway last month in a scrimmage and finished with a 2-2 draw. The Lady Raiders also blanked defending TAPPS Division II champions Grace Community 10-0 in another exhibition.
Senior forward Alex Bice is back to lead the way up top after being named District 11-6A Offensive MVP and All-East Texas first team a year ago thanks to her 21 goals and four assists.
In midfield for REL are returning seniors Jazmine Navarro and Priscilla Rincon. Both were first-team all-district last year with Navarro also named to the All-East Texas first team after leading REL with 14 assists to go with four goals.
Woodard said all three are co-captains and will continue their careers at the Division I level, with Bice committed to Samford University and Navarro and Rincon committed to Texas Woman's University.
"Alex has been one of the leading goal scorers in the district and I expect her to score goals and be even better this year," Woodard said. "Jaz has been easily the best player on the field during our scrimmages so far. Priscilla has been injured, but she will have a good year when she (is back healthy)."
Woodard said another returning strength for Lee is its back four, led by senior co-captain Anna Joy Kuehn, who Woodard said "has been scoring goals for us on free kicks and been extremely solid in the back. I think (overall) we are stronger in the back than we have been in recent years."
Kourtney Hitchcock received Utility Player of the Year honors as a freshman in 2015 and was a second-team all-district forward last year as a sophomore, finishing with eight goals and three assists. Woodard has the now-junior as part of his back four at center back, along with sophomore Kaleigh Minehart and senior Claire Carnes.
The Lady Raiders will employ a five-person midfield with Rincon and Navarro joined by sophomore Abby Tillson, who was All-East Texas Newcomer of the Year last season with four goals and three assists, sophomore Irasel Pacheco and junior Karla Bustos.
The goalkeepers are juniors Mystical Leathers and Madelyn Filla. Woodard said he wants to use both in matches, playing one in the first half and the other in the second half.
"We are in a better position at goalkeeper than last year because of (the depth at the position)," Woodard said. "I have talked to them both about winning their halves. If they can do that, everything else will take care of itself.
"Both are getting better and are pushing each other because of the competition. They are good friends too and pull for each other."
The Lady Raiders were annual district champions for nearly a decade, but REL has now gone several years without adding a gold ball to the trophy case.
Woodard said he feels he has the squad that could end the drought
"It's going to be tough, but I kind of like our chances," Woodard said.
Robert E. Lee Varsity Girls Soccer Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Jan. 5 #Clear Creek 3 p.m.
Jan. 6 #Houston Bellaire 5 p.m.
Jan. 7 # San Antonio O'Connor 3 p.m.
Jan. 12 $Conroe Oak Ridge 4 p.m.
Jan. 13 $Jacksonville 4 pm.
Jan. 14 $Lufkin 2 p.m.
Jan. 24 Rockwall-Heath* 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 27 at Longview* 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 31 Mesquite Horn* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 3 Mesquite* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 7 at Rockwall* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 10 North Mesquite* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 14 at John Tyler* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 17 at Rockwall-Heath* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 21 Longview* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 24 at Mesquite Horn* 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 28 at Mesquite* 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 3 Rockwall* 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 7 at North Mesquite* 7:15 p.m.
Mar. 10 John Tyler* 7:15 p.m.
# - Highlander Invitational, Conroe The Woodlands
$ - Lady Pack Soccer Showcase, Lufkin
* - District 11-6A game
Lady Raiders Roster
0 Mystical Leathers 11
1 Madelyn Filla 11
3 Claire Carnes 12
4 Brooklyn Robinson 10
5 Emma Kennedy 9
6 Abby Tillson 10
7 Meghan Romines 10
8 Karla Bustos 11
9 Kourtney Hitchcock 11
10 Priscilla Rincon 12
11 Irasel Pacheco 10
12 Anna Joy Kuehn 12
13 Jazmine Navarro 12
14 Brissa Renteria 12
16 Kaleigh Minehart 10
18 Kaitlyn Nash 10
19 Marita Walker 12
20 Maddie Bice 10
21 Anna Wegener 12
22 Arlene Turcios 12
24 Alex Bice 12
Head Coach: Chris Woodard
Assistant: Sara Hernandez