Kicking off its first season in Class 6A, one match loomed large on the Vista Ridge girls soccer team’s 25-6A schedule — a rematch with Vandegrift on Friday, Feb. 3.
Last April, the longtime rivals clashed in a regional final at Corpus Christi’s Cabaniss Field with a trip to the state tournament on the line. After watching Vandegrift advance to the state tournament the previous two years, Vista Ridge prevailed in that regional final, beating the Vipers 2-1 to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
This season, much has changed, as Vista Ridge and Vandegrift both advanced to Class 6A competition, joining powers Westlake and Lake Travis in District 25-6A. Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is the loss of seven seniors from last year’s state semifinal team, including last year’s all-district offensive MVP Brooke Shank and first-team all district player Sophie Taylor.
Vandegrift also lost a number of seniors to graduation last year, including three first-team All DIstrict players. Still, the Vipers started this season in similar fashion to recent years, going 4-1-2 in non-district play before dominating Westlake, Lehman and Leander by a combined score of 15-2 to begin district play.
“They’re a big rival,” said Vista Ridge coach Kristen Stone. “We’re kind of a younger team now than we were last year, and we want to work with who we have now, so we came in just knowing that we all needed to get along and be positive, and we knew if we worked hard we could do it.”
Senior Erynn Johns, one of the heroes of last season’s playoff run, had a number of opportunities in close, but Vandegrift goalkeeper Haleigh Heath — facing Vista Ridge for her sixth time — was able to fend off all of the Rangers’ scoring attempts.
Vista Ridge played most of the first 12 minutes on their own side of the field, defending an aggressive Viper offense led by Grace Erdman and Sarah Mahosky, who each had a number of early opportunities.
The Rangers battled back and put the Vipers on their heels later in the first half and carried that momentum into the second, with Kaitlynn Johns fighting aggressively for control and passing forward to sister Erynn, who continued to attack the net throughout the second half. Entering the game’s final minutes with the scoreboard still showing a 0-0 tie, Vandegrift began a furious attack rebuffed by goalkeeper Madie Wideman.
Senior defender Tiffany Volking made a crucial play, deflecting a shot as the seconds ticked away to a 0-0 final score.
“It was a little frantic there in the last three minutes, so we were playing a lot of defense. Madie saved us last year, so we trust her,” said Stone. “She’s a good goalkeeper, we trust her and we’re behind her. And then Tiffany saving that goal, that was awesome.”
Stone saw Friday’s game as both a milestone, preventing the Vipers from getting the better of the Rangers to avenge last year’s loss, as well as an opportunity to gauge the Rangers’ progress this year as a team.
“It was huge because we didn’t know where we stood, like with Westlake and Lake Travis,” said Stone. “They’ve played them and we haven’t, so seeing the scores that Vandy had. And knowing we tied them here, it gives me hope that we’re going to be ok.”
Vista Ridge (2-0-1) returned to action on Tuesday against Hays (3-1) and will travel to Lake Travis (1-2) on Friday for a 7:15 p.m. matchup at Cavalier Stadium.