EXTRA POINTS: Panthers have one of best stories at state tournament

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By SEAN SHAPIRO

GEORGETOWN — Of all the success stories entering the 2015 UIL State Soccer Tournament – and there are quite a few – nothing stands up to what the Liberty Hill boys soccer team did this season.

Yes, of the 24 teams at the state tournament, 14 were making their inaugural appearance.

And yes, there were quite a few teams that had close calls in 2014 before reaching the state’s biggest stage in 2015.

But only Liberty Hill hadn’t even played a second of varsity soccer before this season.

The other Class 4A teams all played varsity soccer last season, albeit up a classification and had to spar with larger schools.

But Liberty Hill had played an outlaw schedule in 2014. Sure it was a team, but it didn’t have the experience of playoff soccer, district opponents, and do-or-die, have-to-win situations.

They approached all of those challenges on the fly, and they passed with flying colors in 2015.

Liberty Hill won big – beating La Grange 6-0 – and eked out close wins against Boerne, Giddings, Grulla, and Fredericksburg. That last match turned into quite a nail biter, but what’s left of those fingernails could hoist a state championship trophy this week.

In a town built on sports tradition, the boys soccer team instantly turned itself into a title contender.

Liberty Hill’s success story also proves that the concept of Class 4A soccer works.

For the first time in UIL history there were three classifications of soccer in 2015. The smallest, for schools smaller than 1,000 students, was the first offering for schools that didn’t want to play with their larger brethren.

There’s not a lack of talent in 4A soccer programs — that was evident watching the first couple games at Georgetown’s Birkelbach Stadium on Wednesday. These kids can play, they just don’t have the depth of the larger schools.

While larger schools can roll out deep lineups, often subbing in five or six players, the Class 4A schools typically play 11 players the entire game and use subs sparingly. Those players not only are the most elite athletes fitness wise, they’re also pretty good soccer players who could play at larger schools.

“The difference between 4A and 5A isn’t how good the kids are, but how many you have,” Kennedale coach Michael Strange told me Wednesday in Georgetown, long before Liberty Hill took the field. “It’s the final 20 minutes of the game where a 5A or 6A school would have the advantage.”

But they would never have an advantage in story lines, like Liberty Hill.

This column was written before Liberty Hill kicked off in Georgetown, but the Panthers were already making a statement simply by being on the field.

It doesn’t matter about the size of the team, or the history of the program, just how you approach the task in front of you.

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