Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 4, 2013

Navarro College Soccer: Navarro’s young soccer team grows up fast

Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — On the day Navarro’s women’s soccer team made the big leap to No. 4 in the nation coach Debbie Bonner sent a text to all her players with the news.

No champagne, no dancing in the streets, not even some leaping with high-fives.

Nope.

This is what Bonner got back.

“They all sent the same text,’’ Bonner said. “They all said: ‘We have a long way to go.’ “

That’s not music to a coach’s ear. That’s Beethoven’s 9th.

But it’s that feeling, that understanding and that drive that defines this Navarro team, the young and relentless.

“We do have a long way to go,’’ said Trudi Carter, who leads the team with eight goals. “It’s a journey, and the journey is not finished yet .’’

That journey could end with a national title, but no one at Navarro is getting ahead of themselves. Not this year, not with this team. The story here is not how far they can go but how far they have already come.

No one outside of the program could have expected this kind of early success from the youngest team in Navarro history, a team that has 24 freshmen and four sophomores.

It’s true that Navarro’s 2008 team that played for a national title was loaded with freshmen, but 24? That’s unheard of at Navarro, where Bonner and her husband and assistant coach, Aric, have turned the program into a national power in their 12 years in Corsicana.

“There are days I think, ‘Oh my God,’ ’’ said Debbie with a smile at practice this week. “It’s such a learning curve, the pace of the game, how we pass ... They are learning a whole lot. It’s such a different game from high school. Our goal is every day to learn a little more about the college game.’’

That’s the secret at Navarro. These kids, who were all stars in high school, have put their egos to the side and decided to learn every day.

“Our freshmen work hard. They’ve got a good work ethic and they want to learn,’’ Debbie Bonner said. “These kids are fighting every moment to get on the field. If they’re not playing they are asking questions what they can do to get better.’’

The Bonners have been surprised.

“You don’t get kids like that now,’’ Debbie Bonner said. “This is the entitlement age. This generation thinks they’re entitled. But these kids are different.’’

And so is the program, where the players have to prove themselves every day.

“They didn’t even get their uniforms until last week,’’ Debbie Bonner said. “They have to earn everything. They just earned their lockers about a week and a half ago.’’

But oh what lockers.

The Bonners had fundraiser after fundraiser to raise money for a new women’s soccer fieldhouse with a state-of-the-art locker room, where the players gather in their free time to watch movies, listen to music and just hang out. The bonding there has been extraordinary, and has helped the kids become a team quickly.

“We love it there,’’ said goalkeeper Kenia Medina. “We get together and everyone brings food and we watch movies and spend time together as a team.’’

All that bonding and working on the learning curve has defined Navarro, but the coaches knew they were bringing in talent, and that was evident from the first day.

Judith Bast, a sophomore and team leader from Germany, said she wasn’t worried about being on a team with 24 freshmen.

“I didn’t know we had 24 freshmen until I got here in the summer,’’ said Bast, who has four goals and five assists this season. “When I got here I thought, ‘Wow! That’s a lot of new faces.’ But I was excited because when I saw them in the tryout the first day they were really good. This team has a lot of talent.’’

Even Bast is impressed with the passion the younger players have to learn.

“They want to learn. They want to get better,’’ she said. “Everybody is working hard and focused on soccer. They follow directions. When the coach tells them something, they actually do it. They listen to everything.’’

Sophomores Lexi Riggs, a tenacious defender and Joanna Nigro are having big seasons and several freshmen, including striker Melina Prado and defender Morgan Nutley, have come into their own and made giant strides this season, and the older players have been there to help.

“The few sophomores we have have given very good leadership,’’ Debbie Bonner said.

Navarro is 8-2 and has won six in a row and is moving up in the national rankings from week to week, but no one this team takes anything for granted.

“We know we can do it. We have a lot of talent, but talented teams don’t always win,’’ Carter said. “We work hard and we push each other. I believe in my team and we believe in each other.’’

Medina, who has improved as much or more than anyone since coming to Navarro, sees that attitude all over the field.

“Everyone is really coachable,’’ she said. “They will listen and want to get better. When they have a problem the attitude is, ‘I just have to fix it.’ Everyone believes in the same idea that I have to do this for the team. They look at the bigger picture. No one is selfish.’’

It’s tough to score on an unselfish team because the ball movement and defense dovetails and frustrates opponents. Navarro has six shutouts and has given up only five goals all season, and two of those came against nationally-ranked Tyler in a 3-2 win on the road. The Bulldogs have allowed only one goal in their last four games.

“This was uncharted territory having this many players (28) and this many freshmen (24). We didn’t know what to expect,’’ Aric Bonner said. “The best thing about this team is the way are working together as a group. There’s not a divide. They work together and push each other. That’s been a pleasant surprise.’’

The freshmen include Viridiana Moreno, Valerie Delgado, Amanda Olsen, Lundon Gutierrez, Evelyn Delarosa, Courtney Mounts, Caroline Spurrier, Guadalupe Ortiz, Shelby Evans, Corina Castillo, Amber Plite, Chelsey Blacklock, Anai Vargas, Emily Diaz, Tiffany Robinson, Shanise Foster, Natalia Torres and Gabriella Ashley, and sophomores Erica Pena and Naialana Garcia round out the team.

The Bonners want to see just how good this team might be as it grows.

“How good can they be? That’s up to them,’’ Aric Bonner said. They need to have the confidence to do it. They could be one of the best we’ve had. The 2008 team went undefeated so they can’t be better than that in the regular season because we have already lost two games. And that was a freshmen loaded team. Just because there are a lot of freshmen it doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to be good.’’