Differing approaches in goal net state berths for Vipers, Hawks

Goalkeeper Makenna Garcia takes pride in being the last line of defense for the Hendrickson girls soccer team.

Vandegrift goalkeepers Haleigh Heath and Tara Lujan, meanwhile, have split time in net this season. The Vipers have relied on both while allowing only two goals in five postseason victories this spring.

Hendrickson and Vandegrift take different approaches when it comes to how they use their goalkeepers, but no one can argue about their success. Both Class 6A teams have reached the UIL soccer championships, which opened Wednesday in Georgetown.

A freshman, Garcia has been a lone ranger for Hendrickson, guarding the net by herself throughout the season. She has yielded 15 goals for a team that boasts a 17-4-4 record and is headed to state for the first time in school history. The Hawks have posted 16 shutouts.

Heath and Lujan have been spectacular, too, giving up a total of 10 goals this season for the Vipers (19-1-4). They have combined for 15 shutouts in their 24 matches.

At Hendrickson, coach Rennie Rebe has placed her faith in Garcia, who quickly earned the respect of her older teammates. The coach describes Garcia as “athletic and aggressive off her line” and adds that she’s not surprised Garcia has found success in her first varsity season.

“Makenna’s good with her feet so the defense trusts her as a relief-of-pressure option,” said Rebe, who’s in her second season at Hendrickson. “Players respect her work ethic and how she leads by example.”

Earlier this season, Garcia had a string of 11 straight shutouts, capped by a 10-0 victory over San Marcos in the first round of the playoffs.

Garcia credits much of her success to the training she has received at the Lone Star Soccer Club, beginning after her eighth birthday. And it didn’t take her long to learn goalkeeper was her natural position.

“I’ve always loved hitting the ground, making saves that helped us win games,” said Garcia, who credits Rebe for bringing a winning culture to Hendrickson.

Rebe has compiled a 346-87-33 career record at five schools — El Paso Franklin, Stony Point, Humble Kingwood, Westlake and Hendrickson. Up till now, she had left her greatest mark on Westlake, where her teams won six district championships in seven years as she posted a 143-22-17 mark.

“Rebe knows how to talk to us,” Garcia said. “She’s connected to all of us. We’ll do anything she tells us to do.”

Despite her coaching success, Rebe will be making her state tournament debut after enduring seven losses in regional finals.

Vandegrift has relied on a rock-solid defense to reach state for the third time in four years. With Heath and Lujan guarding the net, Vandegrift has won its five playoff games by a combined score of 13-2. Those victories included a 2-1 triumph over San Antonio Reagan that was decided by penalty kicks, with Lujan delivering the game-winning score in a sudden-death setting.

Vipers coach Jen Hardy, who led her team to a Class 4A state championship in 2014, said she uses a two-goalie system because both Heath and Lujan deserve to play.

“I truly believe that both have so much to offer and both are knowledgeable and talented,” she said. “It’s been important to me this season to reward them both, and the fact that I trust them equally allows me to do that with playing time.”

Heath, who will continue her playing career next season at Abilene Christian, has a team-first attitude. She jumped into competitive soccer as a 4-year-old after her parents set her up to play for a Hutto Youth Soccer Association team called the Bumblebees. Heath and Lujan, just like Garcia, have honed their goalkeeping skills with Lone Star club teams.

Heath describes herself as “fearless” and “not afraid to make a slide tackle” on an opponent looking to score.

Lujan, who normally plays the second half of games, said the two-goalie system works because opponents have to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of both players.

“I really like the challenge, the pressure of close games,” she said. “All those situations that give me an adrenaline rush.”

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