Your password needs to be at least 8 characters and one number.
Stratford junior forward Lauren Ahearn has played brilliantly in the postseason with six goals in three games. She has 16 goals and 11 assists this season.
With everything that has keyed a dazzling postseason run for Stratford’s girls soccer team, the rise of junior Lauren Ahearn as a playoff sensation has perhaps been most inspiring.
The dynamic forward has six goals in three playoff games. Overall, Ahearn has 16 goals and 11 assists this season. But it was as recently as last season when Ahearn’s confidence was shattered and doubt controlled every thought, every move.
“I’m a better player because I trust myself,” Ahearn said. “Last season, I was all in my head and in a funk. Now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Ahearn said she has learned to let go of negative thoughts during games. There was a time she didn’t believe in herself. She would miss a shot and immediately start overthinking things, her mind beating up instincts and emotions.
“As if it was the biggest mistake of my life,” she said.
Those thoughts begot sloppy, tense play. Eventually, they became too much.
So Ahearn started going to sessions with sports performance coach Ashley Eckermann, who has been essential in establishing a healthier approach and mentality. Eckermann attends to all types of athletes, from high school to the professional ranks to Olympians.
Eckermann taught Ahearn to create an alter ego for herself. It allows the individual to be tougher, stronger, assertive and more confident.
Ahearn’s is “Lazer Lauren.”
“Lazer represents my speed, and it reminds me to utilize it on the field,” Ahearn said.
Whether Lazer or Lauren, Ahearn has been unstoppable when her team has needed her most. She has four goals in the last two games and helped Stratford to the regional tournament for the first time since 2013.
The Spartans (19-3-4) play Beaumont West Brook in the regional semifinals 2 p.m. Friday at Abshier Stadium in Deer Park.
“For Lauren, it’s all about the confidence,” third-year coach David Walters said. “You can see it. It doesn’t matter if she misses a shot, there’s never a head-down, woe-is-me moment. She’s fearless and she’s got a short memory. Last year, things lingered and ate at her. She’s hitting the ball with confidence and power instead of trying to place everything like last year.”
Ahearn can strike with either foot. She has a “motor that doesn’t quit,” Walters said. She is faster than fast.
“She believes in herself,” Walters said. “She’s really catching fire at the right time.”
Stratford is one of the more admirable stories of the soccer playoffs. The Spartans finished fourth in district play last season but made an unexpected run to the regional quarterfinals.
There has been nothing surprising about this season.
“I think the kids knew all along that we were capable of making a deep run,” Walters said.
Stratford is 19-3-4 this season and in the regional tournament for the first time since 2013.VYPE Media
This season, the Spartans won the District 17-6A championship and are having their best playoff run at the 6A level. They were a 4A program when they made their regional tourney run nine years ago.
“I would describe this season as trust,” Ahearn said. “The bonds we all have with each other is something that makes our team better. It’s being able to know that whoever loses the ball, they will work hard to get it back in our possession.”
Stratford is a deeper team this year, thanks to five freshmen playing beyond their years. Ryann Weber, Whitney Bui and Mary Paul, in particular, have been essential as reserves. Because of their energy and playmaking, there is not a dropoff in play when Walters goes to his bench.
“We have had quality practice sessions because of how they push the starters,” Walters said.
Senior Rileigh Toner has been invaluable, on and off the field. The center midfielder is not only a dependable attacker, but also a reliable teammate whom Walters likes to affectionately call a “mother duckling.”
“She’s going to be named the District MVP, so her play has been outstanding,” Walters said. “But one of the main reasons the freshmen have all excelled is because she’s taken them all under her wing. She remembers her freshman year on varsity when the senior class wasn’t very nice and there wasn’t a whole lot of bonding. Since I’ve gotten here, we worked on that attitude, and she’s really made it her mission to make others feel comfortable.”
The Spartans know they’re making history. They’re having fun while doing so. It’s a group that enjoys being around each other and is showing off a tendency to shine when the lights are brightest.
“We are capable of anything,” Ahearn said. “Also, we know no matter how far we go into the playoffs, we will take away knowing we tried our hardest and left our hearts on the field. The farther we go into the playoffs, the more realistic the future looks. We just want to do our best and capitalize when we need to.”
Tompkins sophomore striker Valentina Gianinetto, left, and junior goalkeeper Gaby Vazquez have been instrumental through the Falcons' postseason run.
KATY—Last season was disappointing for Tompkins’ girls soccer team. The Falcons, accustomed to dominant runs to the state tournament, fell in the area round of the playoffs.
Entering this season, the goal was to get right again. That means winning when it matters. It means playing into April.
Junior goalkeeper Gaby Vazquez and sophomore striker Valentina Gianinetto are doing their best to make it happen.
Vazquez was incredible in Tompkins’ bi-district playoff win in penalty kicks over George Ranch last week. Vazquez guessed correctly and stuffed a penalty shot with 20 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Then, in PKs, Vazquez saved three of the four unconverted penalty kicks from George Ranch as Tompkins won 3-0 (1-1).
Tuesday, Gianinetto scored two goals to lead the Falcons past Bellaire, 3-1, in the Region III-6A area playoffs at Legacy Stadium and advance Tompkins (13-3-5) to the regional quarterfinals later this week.
“They’re natural leaders,” Tompkins coach Jarrett Shipman said of the duo. “The big thing is that’s a sophomore and a junior fighting for our seniors. This is one of the closest-knit groups we’ve had. I think it means as much to the sophomores and juniors as it does to the seniors that any game could be their last.”
Vazquez was hardly tested against Bellaire. She surrendered a late second-half goal with the Falcons ahead 3-0, but otherwise has been exceptional this season.
Vazquez has 13 shutouts in 18 starts this season and has allowed only 11 goals for an 0.64 goals-against average.
Shipman said because of his keeper’s admirable work ethic, none of the success is a surprise.
“Mixed with club season, I’m always kind of working, so that helps,” Vazquez said. “I don’t think I go a night without a practice. We’re up at 6 am. to practice every day. We’re always together, always working on everything.
“I’ve definitely been working on how to get crosses. I’m better at holding on to the ball more instead of just trying to bat it out. There’s things I still need to work on, like distribution, but I definitely think saving-wise I’m a lot better.”
Gianinetto has emerged as the Falcons’ key attacker, continuing an impressive run of decorated strikers like Barbara Olivieri and Skylar Parker.
Gianinetto has 10 goals and six assists this season. She said she’s better at following through on shots and is starting to master the subtle nuances of attacking.
Sophomore Valentina Gianinetto with her second goal today. Probably the easiest she\u2019s had all season. @OTHSLadySoccer leads 3-0 in the 48th minute. @KatyISDAthletic @LethalSoccer @othsstudentspic.twitter.com/vBHfAW2k5n — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
“This feels amazing, especially after last year and not being able to get past the second round,” Gianinetto said. “This was a game I wanted to win more than anything. Last year left a sour taste. Now we take each game one at a time and put all the focus, energy, and effort into the next game, and the next game only.”
Shipman said the attack goes as Gianinetto goes. Everything flows through Gianinetto because of her innate ability to dictate the pace of a game.
“She wants to put everything on her,” Shipman said. “She wants to put the team on her back and she’s very happy doing that. She wants to make sure she gets us a ‘W.’”
Vazquez and Gianinetto both agree that this year’s team is more connected, not only in passing on the field but also off. Tompkins’ success is predicated upon more of a collaborative effort than in past years.
Vazquez was a freshman on varsity two years ago when the Falcons were fresh off two state tournament appearances in three years and eyeing another trip. She wants to get back to that.
Not necessarily just for herself, but for her teammates.
“I was there for the COVID season (in 2020) when we knew we were going to go all the way, but that season got canceled,” Vazquez said. “I was there last year when I was friends with all those seniors, and it was disappointing to get out early. We all knew we needed to make it far for these seniors, and I’m just trying to get as far as we can.”