To get her team where she wanted it, Evelyn Torres did something she’s never done in eight seasons as head coach of Ridge Point girls soccer.
To endorse leadership and team chemistry, Torres allotted time during practices to team bonding.
“Learning from last year’s mistakes,” Torres said. “That was the key. Giving time out of our practice to develop a good team culture to allow some of our players to become leaders and give them that opportunity, not only on the field but off the field as well.”
By almost anyone’s standards, Ridge Point had a stellar season in 2021. But by the Panthers’ standards, it was disappointing.
Ridge Point won its first 20 games but fell to Cy-Fair in the area playoffs. A 21-2 overall record never felt so bitter.
So Torres went to work creating culture and unity. Once a week, instead of holding a typical practice, she came up with exercises for team bonding. On game days, instead of watching film, she employed group-oriented tasks to focus more on the girls.
There were scavenger hunts. Torres grouped players together for five-minute sessions to go through playlists on their phones and pick songs they’d choose as their walkout song. It enabled a sense of knowing what each other was feeling.
Players even incorporated some of Torres’ team-building initiatives into their weekly team dinners.
“If everybody was a dog, what kind of dog would everybody be? It was so silly some of the things we did,” Torres said. “Made no sense. But they loved it. It’s not only giving them time to spend time together, but also giving them time to have fun together. Sometimes the focus is so much about winning, but it’s about the process and getting them there.”
It has been a rousing success. The Panthers are 24-0. They have scored 112 goals. They have allowed only four. Twenty-one of their games have been shutouts. Ridge Point is in the regional tournament for the first time since 2015, playing Atascocita in the Region III-6A semifinal Friday afternoon at Abshier Stadium in Deer Park.
Torres’ ways paid off.
Ridge Point girls soccer coach Evelyn Torres.VYPE Media
“Everyone seems to connect with each other, regardless of grade level or skill set,” junior goalkeeper Molly Thompson said. “I’ve always thought that a strong chemistry translates into how a team performs on the field.”
Torres has a player-led team, a coach’s luxury. After last year’s abrupt ending, players were devastated. There was friction. ‘Are we good enough?’ ‘What can I do?’ ‘Where did I go wrong?’
But the Panthers overcame the initial doubt and frustration and came into this season rejuvenated, fueled by underachievement and anger. Enough to where when Torres had to pick captains, there was a dilemma. There were too many girls worthy of the title. Too many who were confident they could affect things in a positive way.
So, Torres, again, did something she’s never done. She named seven captains. Typically, most teams have two. But seniors Lauren Walker and Devon Rountree, and juniors Hannah Warnken, Charlotte Richardson, Zoe Main, Taylor Vinson and Kara Canetti all were deserving, and Torres emboldened their purpose.
Each one of those seven had valid reasoning as to why they should be captain and what they could provide in that role. Each one’s reasoning was different to others’ and unique to themselves.
Torres rewarded that.
“I don’t know if I’m an idiot or a genius,” Torres said, laughing. “It really has given them ownership, rather than just picking two people. Sometimes when you name two, everyone looks at those two and very rarely do others step up without having that title. They’re all key players, all key returners from last year. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s worked.”
For a team that graduated 11 seniors, Ridge Point relied on leadership and accountability to form a cohesive unit quickly this season.
“We play really well together,” junior defender Georgia Mulholland said. “I think what makes this program really special is how everyone really shares a goal of having a successful season and hopefully going far in the playoffs.”
The Panthers are also ridiculously talented.
Four NCAA Division I commits dot the Panthers roster. Richardson is committed to Houston. Main is committed to Oklahoma. Mulholland is Baylor-bound. Warnken is headed to UTSA.
“I know I have a talented team, but I had one last year as well,” Torres said. “We just didn’t take the time to build the relationship and foundation of family and culture, and that’s what you need to be successful.”
Torres said the key is players trusting the process of getting to where they want to be with what they have.
“I knew it could be a special team if we worked really hard, because of all the talent that we have throughout our forwards, midfielders and defensive lines,” Muholland said.
Generally an offensive-minded program, Torres and the Panthers made a more concerted effort to amp up the defensive discipline this year. Mulholland, a summer transfer from St. Agnes, Walker, Vinson and freshman Emma Lovell make a dominant backline. Torres has a wealth of skill at goalkeeper, too, with Thompson and junior Alicia Audu sharing time between the posts.
“I’ve been extremely proud of my defense,” Torres said. “They’ve really stepped up. They know we’ve always been strong offensively and they want to make a statement this year.”
This entire season, last season’s playoff ouster consumed the Panthers’ thoughts. But it is no longer considered a setback. They are grateful for it. They are better because of it.
Intensity is higher. Vigor is at a “whole new level,” Thompson said.
Players felt like they could’ve done more last year. Like they didn’t leave everything out on the field. So, they took initiative from day one this season.
Torres said they’re even more stressed out than last year. But that burden is healthier. It’s from a desire to not accept anything less than what they’re deserving of.
“The girls want this,” Torres said. “They have to want it. They have to play for themselves and their teammates. They’re not doing this because I’m asking them do it. They’re winning games and doing things right and better because they actually want to. I’m just here for the ride, and I like the ride. It’s been a lot of fun.”