Athens Boys Soccer Coach Gets Called Up + Guides Girls Squad To Regional Championship Berth
TYLER -- Everything seems good a year out, six months out, even a week ahead of the big day.
Life finds a way.
Lady Hornets head coach Mark Hall missed one of the biggest games of his career Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium for something much bigger in the grand scheme. He attended his daughter's wedding instead of leading his side to what was ultimately a 3-1 win against Paris in the Class 4A Region II semifinal round.
Athens boys head coach Jonathan Ryal was the one that got the girls into today's 1 p.m. regional championship game versus Kilgore.
"I was just happy I could help," Ryal said, laughing. "I actually told him when all of this went down, 'Hey, I can either help you with the girls or I can walk your daughter down the aisle. Either one you want me to do, I'm game. I'm here to be a team player.'"
Ryal's relevant experience with the girls players was teaching them in middle school class. Other than that, the two Athens soccer teams occasionally scrimmaged.
The relief coach spent Thursday at the girls team's practice with Hall to prepare. Hall did the coaching.
Hall will be back in commission for the regional championship game. Ryal will be retained on the girls' staff as an assistant for the rest of the playoff run, which could culminate with an appearance in the Class 4A state tournament next week if Athens (16-8-2) wins today back at Rose Stadium.
Does Ryal know his ring size?
Three more victories, the Lady Hornets are state champions.
"Hey, if they want to give me one, I'm all for it," Ryal said, once again, laughing. "But Coach Hall has kind of asked me to be a consultant for the rest of however long the run goes. I'll be here (today). He'll be running the show, but I'll be there to bounce ideas off of. If we're fortunate enough to go to state, then I'll be right there with him.
"A ring? Hey, whatever. If I get one, wonderful. If I don't, I don't care."
Ryal's boys teams have a good track record. His program reached the bi-district round of the playoffs on the heels of a regional quarterfinals appearance last season.
Paris (13-12-2) made the Lady Hornets work to the end.
Rachel Young, a sophomore forward, netted the game-winning goal at the 25:07 mark of the second half to give Athens a 2-0 lead. The game was scoreless at halftime.
A Paris penalty kick following an interference call on a corner kick inside the Lady Hornets' penalty area by Estaphany Balderas put the pressure back on Athens 10 minutes later.
Young put a short crossing kick from older sister and junior forward Raygan Young into the back of Paris' net for the 3-1 decision with 11:15 left in the game.
"This is huge," Rachel Young said. "Athens has never really gotten this far before. It's big for us, and we're going to take it all the way."
Makayle Traxson gave the Lady Hornets a 1-0 advantage off a juicy rebound surrendered by Paris' goalkeeper in the second half's eighth minute.
Athens' second half breakout was exactly that. Paris created three realistic scoring chances in the first frame to the Lady Hornets' one.
Paris attackers spun the opposing defense twice for open net looks and had a free kick clang off the left post. The Lady Hornets missed an open net.
"I was the waiter and Coach Hall was the chef," Ryal said. "This is all Coach Hall. I just tried to make sure we had 11 girls on the field and everyone was in the right spot. They did all the heavy lifting.
"They were nervous and didn't know what to expect. Kind of thrown off their routine. At halftime, we talked about it and 'Hey, you need to communicate and calm down.' We did. I knew once we got the first goal that we would probably relax and it would come a little easier to them."
Kilgore reached the regional title game a few hours beforehand with a 3-2 win against Nevada Community at Rose Stadium.
The regional championship game will be the third time the two sides have met this year. Both teams have one win in the series.
Athens' 4-3, early February win is the most recent.
"It's hard for me to say because I only got to see a part of their game," Ryal said. "Kilgore already had the lead, up 3-1, when we got here. But I do think it'll be a good game. We've won one and they've won one. I guess it's a best-of-three series and we'll see who gets to go to state."