BY DENNIS SILVA II | @firstname.lastname@example.org
The inevitable occurred on the afternoon of Friday, April 17, but it didn’t make the sting of a lost season any easier to take.
The UIL’s cancellation of remaining spring sports and state championships because of necessary precautions due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, left a plethora of ‘only-ifs’ in the Katy ISD sports community.
Only if Katy softball had been granted a postseason in which to defend its 2019 Class 6A state championship. The Tigers will get another chance next year, yes, but the seniors won’t have a shot at pursuing back-to-back titles. Only if Tompkins senior golfer Elina Sinz had been awarded one more shot at playing for state and an individual championship. Only if the Katy High girls track team or Paetow senior jumper Johnathan Baker or Taylor junior thrower Bryce Foster or Tompkins’ boys and girls track and field teams were given a chance to strut their stuff at state in Austin, smashing records along the way.
The Tompkins, Seven Lakes and Cinco Ranch boys soccer teams were all state-ranked and all viable candidates to represent the district at state.
So on and so on. The ‘what-ifs’ from this high school spring sports season would make for a compelling ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.
But arguably the biggest storyline left unanswered will be that of Tompkins girls soccer.
The Falcons were 17-0-1, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the country when their season was postponed in mid-March and ultimately canceled. No one can tell the future, but Tompkins looked like as sure of a bet as any to return to the state tournament for the third time in four years.
This season was probably the Falcons’ best chance at coming away with state gold after coming up short in the finals in 2017 and 2019.
Now we’ll never know. Though he and his assistants had been preparing and game-planning every day, Tompkins coach Jarrett Shipman said he “knew in the back of my head since after spring break that we may not go back.”
When it did happen, he said, it hit him “like a Mack truck.”
“We were all kind of holding out hope,” Shipman said. “We’d been talking about it as a team and being really positive about everything. When it came down from the UIL that it was over, it was kind of a dark cloud for a little while, but we’ve been reflecting back on the fact that this senior class has been super successful. They’ve done a lot of things a lot of classes don’t get the opportunity to do. We would’ve liked to continue on with that.
“We’ve just got to keep grinding. At the end of the day, it’s life. We always talk about in our program how not everything is going to work out like it’s supposed to. You’re going to have to be resilient and battle. Things happen.”
Four seniors played on varsity as freshmen: Skylar Parker, Lauryn Wild, Valeria Gomez and Terin Graham. They finished their careers with an overall record of 81-9-8 (a winning percentage of 82.7). They played in two state championship games and a regional final.
Six of these seniors were on varsity as sophomores.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to get canceled until we got the news,” Gomez said. “I stayed hopeful until it was certain that we weren’t going to finish the season. It didn’t actually hit me until I was scrolling through the pictures on my phone, looking at all the memories I had made throughout my four years, and I realized that it was really over. Then I was devastated.”
Wild said when she and the team left campus for the start of spring break on March 9, she was excited.
“We’d had an exhausting season and we were ready for the break,” she said.
Looking back now, Wild said it hurts that they were so excited to get off the field and go home and they didn’t even realize they had put on their uniform for the last time.
“I thought there was no way they’d cancel the season,” Wild said. “They were still giving us updates with future dates for playoff games, so there wasn’t a doubt in my mind we weren’t going to go back and play on the dates the UIL was sending. But I guess it’s (the coronavirus) way more serious than any of us were thinking.”
The Falcons seemed different this year. There was a laser-sharp focus and admirable moxie about them. A lot of credit goes to the mental fortitude of the 13 seniors.
Wild admitted that, as a freshman, she was “blissfully unaware” of how serious of an accomplishment it was to get to state. Then the sense of urgency kicked in after her sophomore season and a disappointing end in a regional final loss, when she said the pressure of expectations affected the team.
Tompkins fell in the state final for the second time in three years last season but returned this season physically stronger and focused on winning it all.
“I think the main difference with this year’s team in comparison to past years is that the roster didn’t change much from the state roster last year,” Gomez said. “The majority of the girls playing this year had already experienced being in the atmosphere of a state final, which allowed us to work toward our goal as a team much better than in past years. Every single one of the girls was bought in and determined to get back to the state tournament and winning it.”
As talented as this year’s senior class was, it was its chemistry and fight that separated itself.
“There were many times the team we were playing was probably better than us, but our chemistry and our fight pushed us over the line,” Wild said. “I think we taught that to the classes below us—it’s not necessarily about who’s better, it’s about who wants it more.”
“This group is such a family and so close, so a positive is they got to at least play together a bit their senior year,” he said. “I think what they can really take away is, over the history and through the course of our program, this senior class is the one that built something special. Not only the number of games won, but the culture they’ve built for being a family and the hard work that goes into it. It’s so much more than soccer. These girls are going to be lifelong friends.”
Not long after the UIL’s decision, Gomez said she received a text from sophomore Makinlee Poole expressing Poole’s appreciation for her.
“That honestly meant the world to me,” Gomez said. “I’m glad I got to leave a positive impact on the program and the girls.”
On the field, the Falcons had outscored opponents 62-5. In District 19-5A, which featured two other state-ranked teams in Seven Lakes and Cinco Ranch, Tompkins outscored teams 37-4.
Parker led the Falcons with 20 goals and eight assists. Wild scored 10 goals. Five players totaled double-figure point totals through 18 games. In 18 games, starting senior goalkeeper Rebekah Jordan had 15 shutouts and a 0.26 goals-against average. Two games remained in the district season.
Tompkins appeared set for a district championship appetizer before one last postseason run to avenge its previous standings at state.
Unfortunately, they’ll never know the result of it all.
“As a team, it’s really hard to see a positive right now,” said Wild, who will be playing next year at Texas Tech. “This is still a recent thing. It’s still raw and makes me emotional.
“Losing in the playoffs is one thing, but not even getting the chance to prove to everyone that you’re good enough and not getting redemption … that hurts. We were ranked first in the state and second in the nation. We had something to prove. The fact we didn’t get that chance really hurts.”