HOUSTON - Since taking over the MacArthur girls' soccer program in 2015, Saul Zamora has been working towards this type of year.
The season that would be considered "the breakthrough" or "shattering the ceiling"-type. Resetting future expectations for the program as a whole-type.
2020 was just that and more, before the spring sports came to an unceremonious ending.
"I've heard stories of other teams and I feel their pain," Zamora said. "You've been working for five to six years trying to get these girls ready for the playoffs and you finally feel like you're there. Everything happens for a reason. I feel like it's going to motivate the girls for next year."
Heading into Spring Break, MacArthur was absolutely rolling through District 16-6A play. The Lady Generals crushing opponent after opponent - outscoring teams 58-2 and not allowing a goal in the second round of district play - with two matches left to complete the perfect district mark.
But the season never returned after the schedule break. The Coronavirus pandemic brought a screeching halt to the spring sports, with the harsh finality coming on April 17 when the UIL announced the cancellation of the remainder of the year.
With that announcement came the end to what is the greatest season in MacArthur girls soccer history.
"It was extremely disappointing," Zamora said. "Especially for the seniors because they're obviously not coming back. But I think the difference they made this year will motivate my underclassmen to come back next year and win it for them. They couldn't do it because of things beyond their control. But the seniors are definitely motivating my underclassmen."
If the season would have continued, MacArthur would have been in the playoffs for the sixth-straight year.
With the group they had this year and the way they were playing, Zamora believes they would have broken through and won their first playoff match since 2009 and made program history going past the second round for the first time.
"The last five years we've been competing for the district title and with it to get a matchup against a lower seed in the first round and have a better chance of moving on," Zamora said. "We came in second the last two years and we didn't carry the momentum into the playoffs because of that.
"But this year we were dominating. We were carrying the momentum. I definitely believe this year would have been the year."
Despite them being unable to finish the season, MacArthur finished District 16-6A play with a 12-0 mark and since have been crowned the 2020 District 16-6A Champions - the first time in program history.
With the Lady Generals taking the top spot in the district it came as no surprise to see them dominate the awards, including Zamora winning Coach of the Year.
"It's a little weird to me," Zamora said. "I feel like most of the job is done by the players. With the success that I had, it's all about the players, you can see that on the awards. It's very easy to coach when you've got the players. It's easy to be successful when the players are as committed and skilled as the ones I had this year."
When it came to the player awards, MacArthur had a player win each one - some sharing the accolade.
Senior Melissa Velazquez earned District MVP, senior Aliana Jackson was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore Monica Acosta earned Defensive Player of the Year, freshman Julieta Vega got Co-Newcomer of the Year and senior Viviana Lugo was Goalkeeper of the Year.
"I'm extremely proud, they are a well-deserving team," Zamora said. "Especially how it ended, I feel like they deserve every single award. They dominated in the first round and continued that into the second round."
Velazquez looked at this season as a redemption campaign.
Last year, due to some grade issues, Velazquez was unable to play with the team at the end of the season and into the playoffs. That took a toll on the then-junior, Zamora said, fueling her to be even better on and off the field in 2020.
"She really wanted to make even more of an impact this year," he said. "So, I think that's what drove her to do what she did. She had the most assists and goals combined. She made a big difference. She's the type of player where you can play her defensively and offensively and she'll make an impact on both sides." Jackson was named District MVP last year and was neck-and-neck with Velazquez for the top award. Jackson recently signed with the University of St. Thomas to continue her soccer career.
Vega was one of four freshmen to start on MacArthur's squad. Yes, start, which excites Zamora for the next three years of Lady Generals soccer.
"Really excited for Julieta and her classmates," Zamora said. "That's a sign that we have a great future. We did awesome this year and I think that we're going to keep doing amazing with all these athletes coming in and making an impact in their freshman year."
With the historic nature of the 2020 version of MacArthur girls soccer, Zamora said there are plans to honor them.
Currently, those are postponed due to social distancing restrictions but when the time comes, whenever that happens, they will be recognized properly.
"They definitely deserve a celebration," Zamora said. "I've already spoken to the parents. Whenever this [lockdown] is done, whatever date that is, we are definitely going to celebrate them. They made history, so we need to make sure we reward that."
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