Mentally tough Lady Falcons ready for Sweet 16 challenge

The Los Fresnos Lady Falcons know they’ll have a tall task ahead of them when they face off with Round Rock High in tonight’s Class 6A regional semifinal.
They’re not bothered by the challenge. Los Fresnos entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in a tough District 32-6A and have overcome the odds to reach the Sweet 16. After battling injuries all season, the Lady Falcons are finally at full health and aiming to pull off the upset against the No. 2 Lady Dragons at 7 p.m. in Beeville.
“We know we’re the underdog going into this game,” coach Diego Luna said. “Round Rock is a very well-coached and organized team. (Monday) we were watching film, and I could sense that the girls felt like they were up for the challenge. You can tell when players seem a little bit intimidated, but it was the opposite with the girls. Every game through the playoffs they’ve embraced the challenge, and it’s no different this time.”
Los Fresnos had an up-and-down regular season, but Luna saw the team start to click in the final two games. The Lady Falcons have turned up the intensity through this playoff run, and Luna credits the senior class for being the spark. Kim Salazar, Natalia Alegria, Pamela Esparza and captain Mindy Perez are some of the girls leading the way.
“I have a very small group of seniors this year, but those seniors are very hungry for success,” Luna said. “Their leadership is making a difference with the rest of the team because they see these girls be the first ones at practice, last ones to leave. The younger girls see that, and they feel the pressure and want to work hard, too.”
Perez is a four-year letterman who brings energy and skill to the team. She said this team has a unique chemistry that past teams haven’t, and that translates to solid communication on the field. After seeing last season get cut short before the playoffs, Perez said she’s grateful to be leading the Lady Falcons through this special run.
“It feels really good because we’ve been wanting this for four years, the seniors, and we haven’t gotten there yet. To finally accomplish our goal, and to even pass the first round of playoffs, feels amazing,” Perez said. “This year we’re way more connected as a team, and we all play for each other rather than each person trying to do our own thing.”
Los Fresnos’ second captain is Sara Garza. Luna said Perez and Garza provide great leadership and “are like fifth and sixth coaches” on the field. Garza said she’s using the lessons she learned from the veterans when she was a freshman to now be a strong leader for the team. The junior believes the team’s bond and having some injured pieces back at 100 percent will give them an advantage.
“We feel well-prepared, and it’s exciting to do something not everyone is able to do. My first year playing we lost in Round 1, and it’s amazing to make it to Round 4,” Garza said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries throughout the season but we finally have our whole team, and we’re super good at talking on the field and making those good passes.”
While the senior class leads with experience, Luna praised freshmen Erin Encinia and Daniela Alegria for stepping up throughout the season and said they are “playing lights-out” through the playoffs. Ashley Esparza, who scored the winning goal in Round 2 and had a hat trick in Round 3, and Magui Luna are two other top-contributing Lady Falcons.
Los Fresnos’ roster depth and the team’s mentality are two things Luna thinks will help his Lady Falcons fight for 80 minutes and shoot for the regional final.
“One of the key components of this team is the mental aspect of their game,” Luna said. “I feel this year being mentally tough is a very strong factor for the success these girls are having. We’re excited for the challenge. This is a great experience not only for the girls but for my coaching staff. We get to see how we match up against a highly ranked soccer team and see what we have to do over the next couple of years to be performing at that level.”
Los Fresnos is expecting a battle between two teams with different styles. The Lady Falcons are an attacking team, and Round Rock is defensive. Los Fresnos may be the underdog, but the Lady Falcons feel there’s something special about this team, and they’re heading into this one with something to prove.
“We’re a little nervous, but we have been every game. We can do it if we really try,” Perez said. “We don’t put our heads down when we’re behind, we just pick it up and we have each other’s backs. We don’t fall apart when things get tough.”
Said Garza: “We’re believing in ourselves because a lot of people have been doubting us. We’ve won the last few games, so we’re providing them wrong. I’m super excited and super proud of how far we’ve come by working together.”