EDINBURG — Lizzy Loera admittedly was a little scared when she returned to the soccer field.
Coming back from a broken ankle, that wasn’t entirely unusual. To top it off, however, her Edinburg North coach Danny Valdez moved her from left or right back to sweeper — the last line (or last person) of defense — to replace a teammate who tore her ACL during the first preseason tournament of the year. On a defensive-oriented team, it was a huge pair of spikes to fill in.
“That was very scary,” said Loera, who played through the pain and “scares” to be named The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Defensive Player of the Year. “I had played defense here or there, left or right, but never in the middle. If anyone ever scored, I would always blame myself and would always think ‘That was my fault.’”
Those scoring attempts became fewer and farther in between as Loera overcame the fear, while the ferociousness — the only way to describe a good sweeper’s mentality — grew, blowing caution to the wind in an all-out effort to make sure nobody passed her by.
“Throughout the season I just got more confident,” the rising junior said. “In the beginning, it was very hard. As time went on, every time I stopped someone and got the ball back for us, I gained more confidence. I wanted to win and I wanted the ball out of our area.”
Edinburg North finished the season with a 22-4-1 record, winning District 32-6A for the second straight year. The Cougars went 13-1 in district play, giving up a measly eight goals.
“Lizzy did a great job for us this year,” said Valdez, who has coached the girls program at Edinburg North for 22 years. “She started a bit slow and hesitant because of the injury, but she’s a great competitor and she used her speed and knowledge of the game to put her in position.”
Loera credits her cross country running for keeping her in condition, and her time on the track team — running usually in the 800-meter relay or the 400-meter dash — to help her with speed and quickness.
The knowledge that Valdez has comes from her playing soccer since she was 6 years old.
“When I was smaller, I wasn’t doing anything so (my parents) put me in soccer — with the McAllen Dolphins,” she said. “It was the first sport I ever played and I’ve always enjoyed it every since.”
Loera’s injury came at the end of last season during a scrimmage. She was running up the sideline when she tried to stop the ball — but it didn’t happen like she expected, and definitely not like she wanted.
“My ankle went one way and my body went the other way,” she said. “When I fell, it became numb and I tried to get up and just fell back down. They took me to the trainers and I said I was OK, but when the trainer told me it was broken, I burst into tears.
“It took a while to heal. I would play here and there but my ankle would start hurting and it was tough to get out. I didn’t like getting out.”
Then, once she had recovered enough, she was given another challenge at sweeper. She ended up being named the District 31-6A co-defensive player of the year.
“In the beginning, it was scary,” Loera said. “Then I started thinking if I’m not back here, who is going to be back here? The original sweeper couldn’t play at all and we had a whole bunch of left and right wings.
“Why not go to sweeper? I can play the whole game there.”