High School Girls Soccer

Falcons’ attack ‘different’ as anticipated playoffs linger

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/25/21

Barbara Olivieri is no longer walking through the doors of the Tompkins girls soccer locker room. The Falcons’ career leader in assists and No. 2 in goals scored was the 2020 SEC Freshman of the Year at Texas A&M. Nor is Skylar Parker, the Falcons’ career leader in goals and points, still donning the crimson and navy blue.

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High School Girls Soccer

Falcons’ attack ‘different’ as anticipated playoffs linger

Posted

Barbara Olivieri is no longer walking through the doors of the Tompkins girls soccer locker room. The Falcons’ career leader in assists and No. 2 in goals scored was the 2020 SEC Freshman of the Year at Texas A&M. Nor is Skylar Parker, the Falcons’ career leader in goals and points, still donning the crimson and navy blue.

But that doesn’t mean coach Jarrett Shipman’s attack is not as effective these days. It’s just different. It may not be as prolific, but it is capable of being just as potent.

Coming off a third consecutive district championship, Tompkins, ranked No. 25 in Class 6A in the state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, is a new-look team, though just as talented, boasting a 14-3-2 overall record heading into the first round of the playoffs this weekend.

“We’re pretty different up top,” Shipman said. “We’re still playing the same formation, but when you miss players like Barb and Skylar, you have to replace that. These girls are doing a fantastic job.

“Past teams, it was more, like, we’re just going to score more goals than you. This team, we don’t get scored on a lot.”

The Falcons have a more balanced, open attack. Eight players have compiled at least five points, led by senior attacking midfielder Alyssa Garcia.

Garcia led District 19-5A in goals scored and leads Tompkins overall with 31 points (13 goals, five assists). Her quick rise into a premier playmaker has been a boon for the Falcons, who desperately needed that confident striker after the graduation of Parker and Olivieri, the dynamic duo that terrorized opposing defenses from 2017-2020.

Over the offseason last summer, Garcia prepared herself for what was to come. She trained with her uncle on improving speed and explosion, working on touches and being faster with the ball. When her uncle wasn’t available, she trained on her own on campus.

“With Barb and Skylar, I learned their confidence,” Garcia said. “They were big players in the middle and it was kind of intimidating to play with them. You had to be at your best. So, I watched how they were confident, and I knew there had to be someone this year like that on the field to keep that standard up. I knew there had to be that player to control the game, and I had to step up and be that player.

“Putting in the work I did, I was confident and felt I deserved to be that person.”

Even while moving from forward at the beginning of the year to attacking mid, Garcia’s hard runs make her a force near the net. Her confidence is obvious. She is always talking on the field and playing at a high energy, fully embracing the responsibility and role she has earned.

Shipman said Garcia creates for others as much as she does for herself.

“Alyssa has been a player that’s always been on the brink (of success),” Shipman said. “Two years ago, in the regional tournament, it was her and Barb on the field, and they were just vibing. You could see she was going to be a big-time player for us. This year, it’s her show. Everything kind of runs through her.”

Senior defensive midfielder Felicia Hernandez has also been a key contributor offensively with 19 points, eight goals and three assists. Freshman forward Valentina Gianinetto has 10 points. Senior midfielder Jennifer Pham and senior defender Kyla Warner have three goals each.

“We did focus on Sky and Barb when they were here, because they were exceptional players,” Hernandez said. “But this year, we work more on distributing left and right, and getting the wings up and crossing it and working side to side. We don’t have just one person to rely on. We rely on everyone as a team to contribute.”

It’s been more than enough for a defense that has been practically impenetrable, allowing just three goals all season behind the leadership and skill of junior center back Gabriela Rodriguez and senior defender Avery Burchett.

The Falcons have a plus-20 goal differential this season.

“We’re playing pretty soccer this year, as far as moving the ball well and not just having to go through one person,” Shipman said. “We look like a really good team, and it’s fostered a culture of family. This has been one of the first years where our entire bench plays a lot. It’s definitely a team concept.”

Tompkins was 17-0-1 with two district games left last season before the pandemic canceled the high school soccer season. It was a devastating time for a program of rich tradition and high standards, having been to the Class 6A state final in 2017 and 2019.

It forced coaches and players to live in the moment this season.

As recently as Tuesday morning’s practice, Shipman continued to caution his players about being safe, wearing masks and avoiding large groups. He told of the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U,” which covers a junior college basketball team throughout a season. The team’s season comes to an abrupt end during the playoffs, when players are pulled off the bus after learning COVID-19 was the reason for elimination.

“Because of COVID, we didn’t know how much of a season we’d get this year, if any,” Hernandez said. “We just focused on working hard. Everyone has been giving it their all for the seniors that are leaving, and to give a good experience for incoming freshmen or the sophomores on the team, because we don’t know how long we have. Nothing this season is set in stone.”

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