Leander boys’ soccer coach Russ Girard knew his team wasn’t peaking last week against Westlake, so his halftime message was just to let things fall into place.
The Lions scored three goals in the second half to beat the Chaparrals 3-0 and clinch a spot in the playoffs, ending a two-year drought.
“We had guys coming off the bench and being really excited and congratulating the players,” Girard said. “The emotions were really high and they were really, really excited. It was really cool.”
This was the ninth season for Girard at Leander and the fifth trip to the postseason. The Lions made the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2011 and went again the next two years. They made a run to the regional quarterfinals in 2015.
Some of the seniors on this year’s squad were freshmen on the team in 2015 and were especially excited because they remember what it was like to play in that atmosphere.
Girard said many of the players that were on the team three years ago didn’t play too much on that team, but their experience will still be valuable.
“For some players, just the fact that it’s the playoffs can get in their head,” Girard said. “Just knowing and understanding how it works and the environment and the more people at the games. Those guys that have been around won’t be phased.”
Following their regional quarterfinal run, the Lions graduated 16 seniors.
They started the next two years were tough and they started six freshmen. Girard said it was hard at times and they took some knocks, but he was confident the young group was going to get experience.
“I knew they got the experience that they needed in those two years even if they weren’t successful that it would see success in the long run,” he said. “I think it’s paid off. Iw as able to bring those guys in and play at the varsity level at a really young age.”
Girard said soccer is like baseball in that the players have good and bad spurts, but pointed out center defender Chris Gauthier — who scored a rare goal in the 1-1 draw against Lehman on Friday — as the most reliable player this season.
Leander has been on a tear since round two of the district began on Feb. 20, not losing a game in that span.
The Lions beat playoff-bound Vista Ridge for the second time this year and clinched with the win against Westlake. They drew with the district champions from Lake Travis, going on the road and holding the Cavaliers to a 1-1 tie on March 2.
Leander is the No. 4 seed from District 25-6A and will play the top team from District 26-6A, which will finish their season with a pair of games after spring break. Opponent, time, date and location are yet to be determined.
“In the second part of our district, we have played teams with a really high caliber,” Girard said. “Our players have really raised their game. They play better when they see better opponents. And I just hope they continue to do that.”