High-scoring Box helps Pflugerville pack up another playoff berth

For Pflugerville’s Bryce Box, making history doesn’t matter as much as making the right impression.

Box, a senior attacking midfielder, already has left a deep imprint on the rather shallow tradition of Pflugerville boys soccer. He joined the varsity squad one match into his freshman season, and his 57 career goals are believed to top the all-time list for a program whose sparse record-keeping matches its limited number of postseason appearances, said Panthers fourth-year coach Michael Nave.

No one has played in more postseason games for Pflugerville than Box, who’s made three appearances. In fact, the Panthers (13-4-4) participated in just three playoff games before Nave’s arrival from Marble Falls in advance of the 2013-14 school year. Pflugerville will add another postseason appearance on Thursday night, when the Panthers face visiting Bowie in a Class 6A bi-district match.

“I’m trying to help raise the level of soccer here at Pflugerville,” Box said Wednesday before a practice. “I feel that I have to set the tone for the program. I’m not the most vocal guy, but I feel that I can lead by example.”

He’ll get no argument from Nave, who’s fairly sure that Box became the first boys soccer player from Pflugerville High to commit to a NCAA Division I college program when he signed with UT-Rio Grande Valley last month.

When Box joined his family, friends and teammates for an on-campus signing ceremony, Nave made sure that his sub-varsity players witnessed the historical event.

“The young guys in the program need to know that we can accomplish these kinds of things at Pflugerville,” Nave said. “Bryce and this group of seniors have the right mentality about how to approach the game. I know our young guys see how hard Bryce and the seniors work, and that all makes a big impression on them.”

The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Box has impressed teammates and opponents this season while serving as the point of District 13-6A’s most explosive attack. The Panthers led their district in scoring, piling up 25 goals in 12 matches, and Box’s 56 points on 21 goals and 14 assists topped all 13-6A players.

“He’s had tremendous skill and maturity since we first saw him, but it’s the effort that sets him apart,” said Nave, who’s coached for nearly three decades in Texas and his native Oklahoma. “He gives 100 percent effort and not just in matches. Every practice and every drill, he goes all out.

“And that really is reflective of our team. This is by far the easiest team to coach I’ve ever had. I just roll the ball out and drive the bus.”

Nave’s humble description of his duties contrasts with the on-field results he’s witnessed. Panthers senior midfielder Abel Ocampo said the varsity squad lacked cohesion on the pitch and in the locker room during his freshman and sophomore seasons but that Nave’s emphasis on a positive culture sparked the Panthers’ recent success.

“We just communicate a lot better now,” Ocampo said. “There’s a good chemistry between all the guys, regardless of what class they’re in. There’s just a better feel.”

That improved chemistry becomes most evident when Ocampo and Box join such teammates as Keiji Harper (eight goals, six assists) and Fernando Garduno (nine goals, nine assists) in attack. A team that prides itself on dominating possession, the Panthers will pick apart a defense with precise passes as opposed to booming long balls.

During the postseason, Pflugerville must reduce the defensive lapses that popped up during the regular season — the Panthers gave up at least a trio of goals three times in their last five district games — if it hopes to add at least one more historical note to this season. The Panthers have never won a playoff game, but Box sees no reason to end this season anytime soon.

“With our style of play, we can put a lot of pressure on a defense,” he said. “If we play our game, we can beat anybody.”

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