“We went there as a team but came back as a family,” said head coach Tony Martins.
Against some of the best soccer teams in Texas and Florida, Liberty (7-7-3; 2-1 in the Bay Valley Athletic League) never looked out of place during the showcase, which featured 31 teams from Texas, St. Thomas Aquinas from Florida and Liberty. Over a span of three days, Liberty played the teams ranked second, fourth and fifth in a recent Elite Soccer Report poll, which rates the top teams out of California, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
In three games against teams from Texas, the Lions got to feel the thrill of victory, agony of defeat and emptiness of a tie. The Lions’ lone win came against Nolan Catholic High School out of Forth Worth, which they beat 1-0. Liberty dropped a 1-0 match to Carrol High School (Southlake, Texas) and played to a scoreless tie against Coppell High School (McKinney, Texas).
Liberty’s most impressive game of the showcase might have come in its 1-0 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in its first match. The Raiders entered the game 16-0 as the reigning Class 5A state champions. “Playing at a high level, I feel like we all came together when we played,” said senior defender Kylie Caponio.
Martins felt that despite winning only one game – on an unassisted goal by junior Rebekah McCarthy – the team played great. Prior to the tournament, St. Thomas Aquinas was ranked second, Carrol fourth and Coppell fifth in the poll. “I feel fantastic,” Martins said. “We played really well defensively, and some of the best soccer of the year.”
Goalkeeper Gabby Ciccolella was a Lions standout, surrendering goals only to St. Thomas Aquinas’s Ashley Cardounel and Carrol’s Alison Savage during the four-match showcase.
Facing five pivotal matches in the upcoming league schedule, Martins believes that playing against elite teams helps his squad develop. “It is a challenge,” Martins said. “We have been preaching consistency all season.”
Since returning from the showcase, the Lions are 1-2, including a 2-1 win against Pittsburg and 1-0 losses to Freedom and Heritage. Liberty is currently in third place in the BVAL Freedom and Heritage. The Lions return to their home field Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Deer Valley.