High School: UIL soccer playoffs

Not much was guaranteed to Dallas Jesuit head coach Charles DeLong before the 2012 season.

Two seasons removed from a 5A state title, he faced the dread of losing some of his players to Academy soccer and then, at times, had to put five sophomores on the field.

Looking back, it worked out pretty well for DeLong.

He tallied his 500th career win in district play, separating him as a Dallas coaching legend. Those five sophomores held their own, along with the majority of veteran players returning from last season, to put Jesuit back in the regional tournament this weekend.

Working on Jesuit’s side is decent continuity from the previous two years, but that doesn’t grant DeLong any more confidence in a return to the state tournament with the parity that exists now that Academy players no longer play.

“I’m not downplaying anybody, but I don’t think there is a super-powerhouse team,” DeLong said. “I think every team out there, on any given day, could beat each other.”

Jesuit is the lone area team playing in the 5A Region II tournament at Round Rock’s Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex, paired against The Woodlands in Friday’s semifinal match. The winner of that game will play either Midland Lee or Austin Westlake in the region final.

Two teams represent the area in the Region I tournament -- Plano and Mansfield. Plano’s chance at a berth in the state tournament last season was crushed by Southlake Carroll, who would go on to claim the 5A title.

Mansfield was also knocked out by Carroll in the area round of the playoffs last season and has not advanced past the area round since 2007.

GIRLS

Plano West began its 2010-2011 campaign as the top team nationally out of the DFW area.

That momentum slowed through district play and came to a screeching halt when West saw its season end in bi-district to Coppell.

This year, West enters the regional tournament as one of the most battle-tested teams in the state, surviving playoff matches against nationally ranked Grapevine and Flower Mound.

West’s path to Georgetown in 2012 must go through El Paso Montwood in the regional semifinals. West would then face the winner of Arlington and Flower Mound Marcus.

Marcus is the highest nationally ranked team still alive in the playoffs, sitting at No. 3 in the Week 19 poll, but West isn’t too far behind at No. 6.

The only area team in the Region II tournament is Sachse, who has gradually improved its playoff run every season since 2008-2009 and would continue the trend with a regional semifinal win over Georgetown on Friday.
In Texas, almost all high schools emphasize the importance of football as the top athletic program by giving the head football coach the title and responsibilities of the campus’ athletic director as well.

And then there is Dallas Thomas Jefferson High School.

Since the glory days of the 1960’s, TJ has struggled in its athletic endeavors -- to put it nicely. Just this season, the TJ football team snapped a 36-game losing streak.

Two years ago, DISD and Thomas Jefferson made a statement that was far from popular.

Tomas Sanchez came onboard to take over the head coach position for the TJ boys soccer team and to assume the title of the school’s athletic director.

Hiding in the enormous shadow of athletic shortcomings in the major sports at TJ is the boys soccer team, which returns to the 4A regional tournament for the second time since 2006 and has become the marquee program of the school and the community.

“When I took this job, one of my primary goals was to get the spirit and the winning attitude that was here in the 60’s that is totally gone,” Sanchez said. “I’m lucky I’m the soccer coach because I can use my team as a role model for the other teams to emulate. I’m hoping this is going to spark a resurrection to our sports.”

The program is in the midst of a historic season, breaking the school's previous record of playoff wins with four. While the 2006 team also made the regional semifinals, it took only three wins to get there. Now, there is an additional sectional round that this TJ team overcame in route to the regional semifinals.

Overcoming adversity has been the theme of TJ’s play this season, coming into almost every round of the playoffs as a huge underdog on paper.

TJ beat Royse City in the bi-district round to face a Mesquite Poteet team that had knocked TJ out of the playoffs last year in a shootout.

TJ got redemption, knocking off Poteet in a shootout.

Next, were athletic powerhouse Lucas Lovejoy and state tournament favorite Highland Park in the sectional and regional quarterfinal rounds. TJ knocked out Highland Park, 2-0.

“It’s helped us to be ready for this level with the East Texas teams coming in,” Sanchez said. “Those schools had a height advantage physically and it’s a little bit different style of play. They play more long ball and we play a more possession game.”

What makes TJ a true underdog in the regional tournament is the presence of just two players who have club experience in the starting lineup.

TJ's goal in this regional tournament is not only to advance to state, but to also become the first boys DISD program to earn a trip to the soccer final four.

Standing in its way is 4A state runner-up Kilgore, who ended Dallas Bryan Adams' dream of representing DISD in Georgetown for the first time last year. However, with the teams that have fallen to TJ in 2012, these underdogs might be the favorites to make history.

Also in 4A regional tournament action from the area are Crowley and Carrollton R.L. Turner.

GIRLS

The Region I tournament offers the potential rematch of District 11-4A rivals Birdville and Trophy Club Byron Nelson.

Their first meeting early in district play ended in a 1-1 push after regulation and two overtime periods.

Byron Nelson took the second match with a 2-0 win, giving it the second seed out of the district over Birdville.

Both schools face West Texas opponents in the semifinal round but could meet in the region final at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Read Oak and Carrollton Creekview meet in the only all DFW matchup in the 4A Region II semifinals.

Highland Park also has a shot at the state tournament from Region II.

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