This new year 2019 feels a lot like 2017 for Tompkins.
That year, the Falcons were Class 6A state finalists, and seemed to be bound for Georgetown every season thereafter for a while due to the talented freshmen on the roster. But while last year was far from shabby, a regional finalist finish felt like a letdown.
“What we took from last year is we weren’t that much of a team, and we needed to be more connected,” junior forward Barbara Olivieri said. “This year, every girl is giving their all and we’re all working together. When you have that type of bond, it doesn’t matter who’s out there, you can still look really good.”
Indeed, the Falcons are feeling a bit of déjà vu after topping 2018 state semifinalist McAllen, 4-0, in the Falcon Bracket championship of the 64-team I-10 Shootout at Legacy Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Tompkins (6-0) routed the Bulldogs even with starters Lauryn Wild, Jullietta Haro, Avery Burchett and Sofie Wolf out of action.
The Falcons are steep in quality depth. While Olivieri and junior forward Skylar Parker, who admirably played well moving to the defensive midfield, starred, as per their ways, others like senior Carrie Gerdes and sophomores Kayla Eshbaugh and Jennifer Pham filled in nicely.
Oh, and sophomore forward Felicia Hernandez. It was Hernandez, after all, who tallied a hat trick with three goals against McAllen, emerging as yet another prominent playmaking threat for coach Jarrett Shipman alongside Parker and Olivieri.
“It’s mostly adrenaline,” Hernandez credited for her game. “I don’t think before I make a play. I see the game, and it just comes to me naturally. I’m able to make plays off reaction.”
Last year, Hernandez, named the Falcon bracket championship game’s MVP, was playing on the junior varsity ‘A’ team. She had a hat trick in a game then, too.
So the athletic theatrics she displayed on a bitterly cold evening was nothing new. Hernandez has five goals in six games.
“We’re really excited about Felicia,” Shipman said. “Everything she’s shown us, we knew she was capable of. Her work ethic out on the field is relentless. She’s so strong, she works hard in the weight room, and she’s a fighter.”
Olivieri was a bit more effusive in her praise.
“Felicia is a stud. A stud,” said Olivieri, who scored her seventh goal in six games Saturday. “She’s come in and she’s ripping defenses apart. I’m so proud. Having me, Skylar and Felicia up top, we’re starting to get it down.”
The joy is back on the Falcons sidelines. Shipman said last season was a tough year, one filled with tension and an overwhelming pressure to get back to the state tournament after a surprisingly dominant 2017 campaign from such a young team.
Tompkins players were workmanlike in going about their play last season. That’s not who they were in 2017, when they played loose, relaxed and simply relied upon their physical skill and imagination to take over.
“Two years ago, this was a really close-knit team,” Shipman said. “Last year, there was a lot of pressure to return. It was very tense. After the regional final loss (to rival neighbor Cinco Ranch), we talked about what we needed to do to get back to state, which is to quit worrying about the goal of state and just doing what we need to do each day to get better each game. If we do that, it’ll work out like it’s supposed to.”
The Falcons are back to playing their fast style, with a maximum two-touch rule for each ball-handler and precise passing around the midfield. Olivieri, no longer a precociously gifted underclassmen, is now a leader. She is taking that role seriously.
“I’m one of the older ones now, instead of one of the younger girls,” Olivieri said. “Being that, I’m trying to be more of a leader. It’s an important part of what I’m trying to accomplish this year.”
Parker’s versatility was a godsend Saturday, and Hernandez is a fresh face, a skilled individual whose work ethic brings to mind the foundation of Tompkins’ memorable run in 2017.
Playing just her sixth varsity game, Hernandez ran the field and touched the ball like a seasoned veteran. She kind of is, having played soccer since she was 3-years-old and club soccer since she was 6.
“There were a lot of nerves at first, but the team really welcomed me,” said Hernandez, 15. “They tell me if I do my best, I’ll be fine. That’s what I try to do, because I’m playing with a team that allows me to block out all those nerves and just play the game I love.”
That’s the idea.
“It’s every encouraging to see how close this team is and to see players step up who we needed to step up,” Shipman said. “With the depth we have, anybody can step onto the field and play well when they’re needed.”