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Ridge Point is 24-0 this season, scoring 112 goals and surrendering only four. As a result, the Panthers are back at the regional tournament for the first time since 2015.
To get her team where she wanted it, Evelyn Torres did something she’s never done in eight seasons as head coach of Ridge Point girls soccer.
To endorse leadership and team chemistry, Torres allotted time during practices to team bonding.
“Learning from last year’s mistakes,” Torres said. “That was the key. Giving time out of our practice to develop a good team culture to allow some of our players to become leaders and give them that opportunity, not only on the field but off the field as well.”
By almost anyone’s standards, Ridge Point had a stellar season in 2021. But by the Panthers’ standards, it was disappointing.
Ridge Point won its first 20 games but fell to Cy-Fair in the area playoffs. A 21-2 overall record never felt so bitter.
So Torres went to work creating culture and unity. Once a week, instead of holding a typical practice, she came up with exercises for team bonding. On game days, instead of watching film, she employed group-oriented tasks to focus more on the girls.
There were scavenger hunts. Torres grouped players together for five-minute sessions to go through playlists on their phones and pick songs they’d choose as their walkout song. It enabled a sense of knowing what each other was feeling.
Players even incorporated some of Torres’ team-building initiatives into their weekly team dinners.
“If everybody was a dog, what kind of dog would everybody be? It was so silly some of the things we did,” Torres said. “Made no sense. But they loved it. It’s not only giving them time to spend time together, but also giving them time to have fun together. Sometimes the focus is so much about winning, but it’s about the process and getting them there.”
It has been a rousing success. The Panthers are 24-0. They have scored 112 goals. They have allowed only four. Twenty-one of their games have been shutouts. Ridge Point is in the regional tournament for the first time since 2015, playing Atascocita in the Region III-6A semifinal Friday afternoon at Abshier Stadium in Deer Park.
Torres’ ways paid off.
Ridge Point girls soccer coach Evelyn Torres.VYPE Media
“Everyone seems to connect with each other, regardless of grade level or skill set,” junior goalkeeper Molly Thompson said. “I’ve always thought that a strong chemistry translates into how a team performs on the field.”
Torres has a player-led team, a coach’s luxury. After last year’s abrupt ending, players were devastated. There was friction. ‘Are we good enough?’ ‘What can I do?’ ‘Where did I go wrong?’
But the Panthers overcame the initial doubt and frustration and came into this season rejuvenated, fueled by underachievement and anger. Enough to where when Torres had to pick captains, there was a dilemma. There were too many girls worthy of the title. Too many who were confident they could affect things in a positive way.
So, Torres, again, did something she’s never done. She named seven captains. Typically, most teams have two. But seniors Lauren Walker and Devon Rountree, and juniors Hannah Warnken, Charlotte Richardson, Zoe Main, Taylor Vinson and Kara Canetti all were deserving, and Torres emboldened their purpose.
Each one of those seven had valid reasoning as to why they should be captain and what they could provide in that role. Each one’s reasoning was different to others’ and unique to themselves.
Torres rewarded that.
“I don’t know if I’m an idiot or a genius,” Torres said, laughing. “It really has given them ownership, rather than just picking two people. Sometimes when you name two, everyone looks at those two and very rarely do others step up without having that title. They’re all key players, all key returners from last year. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s worked.”
For a team that graduated 11 seniors, Ridge Point relied on leadership and accountability to form a cohesive unit quickly this season.
“We play really well together,” junior defender Georgia Mulholland said. “I think what makes this program really special is how everyone really shares a goal of having a successful season and hopefully going far in the playoffs.”
The Panthers are also ridiculously talented.
Four NCAA Division I commits dot the Panthers roster. Richardson is committed to Houston. Main is committed to Oklahoma. Mulholland is Baylor-bound. Warnken is headed to UTSA.
“I know I have a talented team, but I had one last year as well,” Torres said. “We just didn’t take the time to build the relationship and foundation of family and culture, and that’s what you need to be successful.”
Torres said the key is players trusting the process of getting to where they want to be with what they have.
“I knew it could be a special team if we worked really hard, because of all the talent that we have throughout our forwards, midfielders and defensive lines,” Muholland said.
Generally an offensive-minded program, Torres and the Panthers made a more concerted effort to amp up the defensive discipline this year. Mulholland, a summer transfer from St. Agnes, Walker, Vinson and freshman Emma Lovell make a dominant backline. Torres has a wealth of skill at goalkeeper, too, with Thompson and junior Alicia Audu sharing time between the posts.
“I’ve been extremely proud of my defense,” Torres said. “They’ve really stepped up. They know we’ve always been strong offensively and they want to make a statement this year.”
This entire season, last season’s playoff ouster consumed the Panthers’ thoughts. But it is no longer considered a setback. They are grateful for it. They are better because of it.
Intensity is higher. Vigor is at a “whole new level,” Thompson said.
Players felt like they could’ve done more last year. Like they didn’t leave everything out on the field. So, they took initiative from day one this season.
Torres said they’re even more stressed out than last year. But that burden is healthier. It’s from a desire to not accept anything less than what they’re deserving of.
“The girls want this,” Torres said. “They have to want it. They have to play for themselves and their teammates. They’re not doing this because I’m asking them do it. They’re winning games and doing things right and better because they actually want to. I’m just here for the ride, and I like the ride. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Ridge Point's girls soccer team celebrates with a banner and trophy after winning the Falcon bracket of the I-10 Shootout tournament in Katy. The Panthers went 3-0 and outscored opponents, 7-1.
KATY—Ridge Point girls soccer coach Evelyn Torres has a team with a lot to prove. So far, she likes what she sees, but she also knows the end game remains a long way.
The Panthers were highly regarded last season, one of the region’s favorites, before sputtering late and falling in the area playoffs.
“We weren’t able to go as far as we thought we should have,” Torres said. “The girls do have a chip on their shoulder and they’re ready to do what they’re supposed to.”
There is a different moxie to year’s Panthers. Eleven seniors graduated from last year. A few freshmen dot the roster. There is a new set of captains.
And while not many expected much out of Ridge Point this season, because of the newness and disappointing collapse last season, the Panthers are 5-0 after winning the highly competitive Falcon bracket of the 64-team I-10 Shootout tournament on Saturday at Legacy Stadium.
.@RPHSGirlsSoccer again! Looks like junior Hannah Warnken on the back tap. 2-0 Panthers, 6:55, 1H. @i10shootout @FBISDAthletics @RP_PantherPride @RPHS_Pantherspic.twitter.com/wDPflI8Iho — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Ridge Point took down San Antonio Johnson, 1-0; nipped Katy Jordan, 1-0, in a game that was called at halftime after referees walked off due to conflict with the Jordan coach; and routed Cy-Woods, 5-1, in the bracket final. The Panthers are ranked No. 2 in Region III by Lethal Enforcer Soccer.
“They’ve proven themselves so far,” Torres said. “I think it’s about keeping it consistent and being hot at the right time. Last year, we were hot at the beginning but not at the end, and that’s when it counts.”
Junior Hannah Warnken said confidence and leadership needed to be better this season. Being named one of two captains along with senior Lauren Walker, Warnken took it personally to see to it that happened.
Along with Warnken and Walker, juniors Zoe Main and Charlotte Richardson have provided a capable, reliable core of leading talent.
Main “always finds a way” offensively, Torres said. Warnken’s high energy and intensity on the field are admirable constants. She had four of Ridge Point's five goals against Cy-Woods. Richardson is a magician possessing the ball and switching field, along with Walker. Richardson had a goal and two assists versus Cy-Woods.
What a shot by @RPHSGirlsSoccer junior Charlotte Richardson! A missile off the keeper. 1-0 Panthers, 27:56, 1H. @i10shootout @FBISDAthletics @RP_PantherPride @RPHS_Pantherspic.twitter.com/zYbr2ATZS6 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
The Panthers are buoyed with an influx of freshmen in Laurel Kelley, Emma Lovell, and Kelsey Vaughn who have quickly emerged as contributors.
“There’s a lot of new people,” Main said. “It’s brought a new environment. Everything is different.”
While Ridge Point has always been potent on the attack, its defense has taken considerable steps forward. A big reason why is junior transfer Georgia Mulholland from St. Agnes.
In the I-10 Shootout, Mulholland never left the field. She was recognized as one of the top players in the tournament.
“What’s helping is we’re trying to play more out of the back, balls to feet, communicating with each other,” Mulholland said. “We’re connecting with each other. We’re dropping in coverage … just really communicating well.”
The Panthers have allowed one goal in five games. A group of talented juniors that includes Taylor Vinson, Kara Canetti, and Alicia Audu has been with Torres since their freshman year.
The defense is reaping the rewards of their maturity and experience.
“We’ve used different goalies, and it’s been impressive that they’ve been able to adapt and do a good job,” Main said.
Chemistry is a boon for the Panthers, another testament to the leadership.
Warnken said the team has bonded well, on and off the field. It’s made it easier for them to learn to play together.
“Everyone thought we were going to drop off this year,” Main said. “I think we proved everyone wrong with this tournament, showing we are still as capable as last year and just as good. All it takes is determination and we’ve been working really hard.”
With the new dynamic of personnel has come a new approach.
“It’s about not getting cocky,” Main said. “Last year, we were rated really high, and I think it got to us and we started thinking we were better than what we were. This year, we have the right mindset. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re approaching everything right.”
The Panthers’ fast start and slow finish last season exposed them to what is necessary.
“It’ll take a lot more practice,” Warnken said. “Definitely a lot more concentration, on and off the field. Not just games, but practices. All of it. No more goofing around. There is a thin line between having fun and staying focused.”