LA JOYA — The La Joya Juarez-Lincoln girls soccer squad capped off its best season in school history with a deep run in the playoffs all the way to the Sweet 16. Powering the Huskies to this historic season was a talented and deep freshman class, which was anchored by Stephanie Jimenez — The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Newcomer of the Year.
“It was amazing. The girls are like my teachers now, they’re the ones who helped me,” Jimenez said. “They were the ones who kept on pushing me to do things. They’d get mad at me and that’s why I was getting better and better.”
Jimenez, an agile and versatile defender, was able to play in a variety of spots for a young team and served as an instant role model for her fellow freshmen teammates.
“(The older players) told me I was the model for the freshmen, and they were the role models for me,” she said.
Jimenez was part of a dynamic freshmen class that helped propel Juarez-Lincoln to a 33-2 record, which included a long winning streak to jump start the Huskies’ season. The team’s first loss came in a 3-0 shutout to district-powerhouse McAllen High.
However, the Juarez-Lincoln girls were able to flip the script in their rematch with the Bulldogs, earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory that snapped McHi’s 50-game district winning streak, which stretched back to March 2015.
“(My most memorable moment) was when we beat McHi,” Jimenez said. “I was nervous because No. 38 on (McAllen) was tall and when she went forward, all the girls told me to go to guard her. I was pretty scared because she was pretty tall. So Coach (Garza) got me out and talked to me and then that’s when I got out of my nervous mode and went to defend.”
“Being 4-foot-9 on the field, sometimes you look at an athlete like her and some people might underestimate the capabilities that she can deliver. I think this year, that was extremely evident when it came to her style of play,” said Rick Garza, the Juarez-Lincoln girls soccer coach.
After that big victory, the Juarez-Lincoln girls reeled ultimately reeled off seven straight wins in district play and barely missed out on clinching their first district title, finishing just one point behind the McHi girls in the end-of-year standings.
Then, the Huskies soared to even greater heights. Jimenez and her teammates didn’t just capture their team’s first-ever playoff victory. Instead, they rattled off three straight en route to the Sweet 16 in the playoffs.
Juarez-Lincoln ultimately lost to Lake Travis, which advanced to the state championship game, to end its season. However, Jimenez notes that her team’s deep run earned them the respect and admiration of their male counterparts.
“The coach came to us and said that we wouldn’t get far again because we were (mostly) freshmen and that we weren’t going to make it. Then Coach talked to us and told us we had to prove to the guys that they weren’t the only ones who could go to the Sweet 16,” Jimenez said. “We came back to school after we lost and they were proud of us that they were not the only ones who could go that far. They were impressed that we could make it.”
As for being named the All-Area Girls Soccer Newcomer of the Year, Jimenez credited her coaches and teammates for helping her earn the honor.
“It was great. At first I saw a lot of freshmen that were really good, and I thought they were going to name (one of them),” Jimenez said. “So when Coach pulled me and another coach into his office. They were talking and all serious and they asked me if I had done something wrong. I told them no and that’s when they told me I was the Newcomer of the Year. I was just in shock.”
“She played against some athletes that were 6 feet tall within her soccer position and she was able to stop many of those key athletes from being able to score goals and was able to stop their gameplay completely,” Garza added. “But more than anything, one thing that I admire about Stephanie is that she’s very humble.”
“She’s an athlete that doesn’t look to find credit or anything like that. She’s more about the team more than anything. She’s an athlete that you can always count on who will give 100% all the time.”