By Jim Irish
Photos by Mike Valiska
Bastrop boys soccer team was ever so close to advancing to the state playoffs last season.
In its final district match, the Bears were blanked by Manor 3-0, only because they were behind 1-0 near the end, abandoned the defense, and allowed two “cheap” goals, Bastrop coach Marc Cox said.
As a result, Bastrop finished in fifth place with a district record of 6-7-1.
“If we had won that Manor game, we would have probably made the playoffs,” said then first-year coach Cox. “But we just didn’t quite get it done. But all that stuff for me builds to this year. I’m listening to the guys more with the 18 months behind us, and they’re listening to me a lot more. It seems we’ve raised our soccer IQ going into this season. (Also), there’s a lot more trust.”
"...It seems we've raised our soccer IQ going into this season."
-- Bastrop soccer coach Marc Cox
Trust is essential because Bastrop has had five coaches in the past seven seasons. Last season’s overall record of 12-7-4 was the first time the program finished with double-digit victories. Bastrop’s team in 2019, which shocked unbeaten Pflugerville 1-0 in bi-district, is the only one in recent memory to reach the playoffs.
“I felt a huge monumental shift in that (losing) culture,” Cox said. “It’s taken 18 months of hard work, just building trust. I told the guys, ‘I’m gonna be here. I’m gonna finish my career here.’ That’s the message I’ve been telling them since Day One.”
Cox had never coached a boys soccer team until last year. He had years of success with girls playoffs teams, including Bastrop in 2011. Bastrop lost six district matches by one goal last year.
“It was a new team,” he said. “You take for granted the knowledge of your personnel, their strengths and weaknesses. I kept reminding them, ‘The difference between a good team and a great team is one goal.”
James Ramon, a senior, tops the list of returning starters. Ramon, who starred as a kicker on the football team, scored 10 goals and had eight assists last season. He’ll be expected to replace the goal-scoring ability of graduates Max Martinez (14 goals) and Emanuel Diaz (nine goals).
An all-district second-team selection, Ramon will shift from roving midfielder to striker to take advantage of his strong leg.
"He's a man among boys up there. ..."
-- Cox about forward James Ramon
“He’s a man among boys up there as far as his power, his speed, his finishing ability,” Cox said. “He’s a creator. I hate to lose that from the midfield, but he’ll move back there once in a while.”
Seniors William Navarro and Omar Cervantes have been named co-captains. Navarro, a left-footed player, will line up at left midfielder, while Cervantes will be on the backline at right or center back.
“He’s got the highest work rate by far,” Cox said about Cervantes. “He’s the heart of our team.”
Sal Uresti, a senior who scored five goals, returns as a starting midfielder. Bryan Ponce, a senior, will move between right and center back but can play anywhere, Cox said.
Tommy Trainor, another returning starter, will attack from the backline, Cox said.
Cervantes’ twin brother, Josue, played significant minutes last season and will start at right midfielder.
Mekhi Jefferson, a senior, returns to Bastrop after playing for Smithville last season. Jefferson is a forward with size and speed, Cox said.
Ruben Abarca, a 6-foot senior, will be the starter at right back.
Newcomer Aaron Arellano, a sophomore, will play exclusively at forward.
“He’s probably our truest forward,” Cox said. “Forwards are not growing on trees."
Cox looks for specific characteristics in a forward such as “the right read, and the right space to be in.”
Cox compares a forward to a symphony conductor whose back is to the audience.
“A true forward, his back is to the goal, and he’s orchestrating the buildup, the final third movement. He’s a pure finisher,” Cox said.
Junior Braulio Mendez and sophomores Ezra Gaona and Jacob Ellis are vying for the crucial position of goalkeeper. Mendez and Gaona rotated last season. Each is defined by special abilities. Mendez has the most experience, having started much of his freshman season.
“His strength is the outside shots, the high balls," Cox said about Mendez.
Gaona “is one of the best I’ve seen inside the (penalty box),” Cox said. “His reaction time (is) something you can’t coach. It’s amazing.”
Ellis started on the junior varsity team last season and is “neck and neck” with Mendez and Gaona. Cox said Ellis is one of three or four “transition” players who will move back and forth between varsity and junior varsity.
Cox plans to name a starter at goalkeeper but not rotate players at the position.
The Bears will go primarily with a 4-4-2 formation.
“It just morphs a little bit here and there into different formations depending on the opponent and where we decide to press,” Cox said.
It is "one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in Central Texas."
-- Cox about District 23-5A
Cox labels District 23-5A “one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in Central Texas.”
Georgetown and East View are new members. Hendrickson and Connally tied for first place in district last season.
Cox said Georgetown is probably the favorite with Hendrickson a close second.
“We know it’s going to be tough from top to bottom,” Cox said.
Bastrop opens its season at Kerrville Tivy on Tuesday.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer living in Bastrop, Texas