When your team’s most talented player also doubles as one of the hardest workers, that rubs off on everyone else — in the best way possible.
Belton head girls coach Oscar Bersoza describes his team’s brand of soccer as “blue collar.” And over the past three years if anyone was unafraid to show up with her lunchpail in tow and punch the clock for a full day’s work, it was Kirsten Bush.
“That’s been part of it, it’s the mentality,” Bersoza said. “She is physically gifted. But the mentality of, I’m just going to outwork people. Then the kid is obviously skillful. So when you add that stuff together, it makes the kid pretty special. She’s scoring goals in droves, obviously, and it just validates the work that she’s done.”
Yes, when a defender relaxed for a second, Bush made them pay. Turns out the combination of speed and hustle make for a profitable blend. It’s that mix of diligence and dexterity that makes Bush the Player of the Year on the 19th annual Super Centex Girls Soccer Team.
Bush’s beginnings in the game were humble enough, marking up her dad in the yard while trying not to put the ball through a window.
“I actually started when I was 12. My dad and I would kick the soccer ball in the backyard,” Bush said. “My first-ever practice I was terrified, but then I really got into it. Once I started scoring goals, I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is for me, for sure.’ I kept getting better and better.”
It didn’t take her long to go from the backyard to the back of the net. Bush attended Central Texas Christian School in Temple through middle school before enrolling at Belton for high school. She missed out on playing as a freshman due to district transfer rules, but she flashed her eye-opening ability the next year. Bush scored 11 goals in 12 matches as a sophomore before a knee injury cut short her season. Still, she showed enough to win Newcomer of the Year honors on both the 12-6A all-district team and the Super Centex squad.
Over that next offseason, Bush began to assert herself more in the weight room and on Belton’s practice field. She set a dutiful pace, and others couldn’t help but fall into line.
“At some point she just decided to get after it,” Bersoza said. “She has become a better team player, a better worker on the field and in the weight room. Her work rate has just exploded and gone through the roof.”
You could game plan for him, mark him, try to keep the ball away from him, but eventually La Vega forward Omar Torres was going to have his chance.
She’s not just spinning her wheels out there, either. It’s made a difference on the field. Bush netted 20 goals as a junior in the 2020 season that was abbreviated by COVID-19’s arrival. This year it all came together for the powerful senior forward, who ripped 32 goals for a Belton team that totaled 126 goals in district play, 62 more than the next-nearest challenger.
With 63 career goals on her docket, it might be hard for Bush to remember them all, much less pick one or two favorites. But she gave it her best shot.
“I think one of my favorite ones was in the Temple game,” Bush said. “I’ve been friends with the goalkeeper for many years. Just winning 2-1 was really nice. And then the playoff game at Mexia, the last one, where I scored, that was really fun. Everybody came up and hugged you, and it was really fun.”
Bush’s role for Belton, which went 18-3-2, captured the 12-6A title and reached the regional semifinals for the first time in 11 years, forced her to be both patient and aggressive. The Lady Tigers often lined up with just one forward, Bush, on the pitch. Her role frequently led to stretches of biding her time before eventually muscling away an opponent, only to give up the ball again.
But when she found her seams to attack, she made the most of them.
Bush signed with Texas A&M-Commerce to play college soccer, and get this — Belton hasn’t even held its graduation yet, but she has already started her summer conditioning workouts to prepare for her first college season. Bush said she’ll miss all her friends and teammates at Belton — “On the bus rides home, we would sing the school song and bang on the walls of the bus,” she said — but not surprisingly she plans to push herself over these next few months with the hope of landing a starting spot for Commerce as a freshman.
Bersoza has no doubt she’ll give it the old college try. She’s been doing that for years, even as a high school player.
“Your skill will let you down, you’ll have a bad game, but your work rate is something that comes from within,” Bersoza said. “It should be very obvious that that’s in you. I think (she’ll do great), just because the kid has a great work rate.”
Coach of the Year: Noah Rolf, Lorena
Yeah, he’s going to take his truck
To the Old Lorena Road
He’s gonna ride till he can’t no more.
With apologies to Lil Nas X, this year’s hit number came from Noah Rolf, who understood that even when you’ve got a good gig, it makes perfect sense to leave for a better gig.
Rolf was perfectly content coaching as an assistant and teaching at Midway ISD. But when he spotted an opening for the girls soccer coach position at tradition-rich Lorena, he couldn’t let that shot just sit there untaken.
“I found out that Lorena had such a strong tradition of excellence, not only in the classroom, but also with their sports programs,” Rolf said. “I really wanted to be a part of that. I wasn’t looking to leave Midway, it was a great district. But I heard so many positive things about Lorena that I wanted to take a crack at it.”
So, Rolf landed the job, and he didn’t mess it up. Not only did he continue that tradition of excellence, as he dubbed it, but he built on it. The first-year head coach led the Lady Leopards to a perfect regular season, a district title as a 3A school playing against 4A competition, and a trip to the third round of the playoffs before Lorena fell to eventual state qualifier Salado, 2-1.
For his sage orchestration, Rolf is the Super Centex Coach of the Year.
Lorena ISD hired Rolf last summer, and he fortunately got to know many of his new players through strength and conditioning workouts in those hot, out-of-school months. As time went on, they got to know each other better and better.
“I think as we went further along throughout this season, each of the players began to understand their roles really well, in holding to their positions and knowing how we want to play our game and our strategy,” Rolf said. “I think as they improved on that we got better and better and stronger in those roles.”
Rolf said that the team set an initial goal of winning district, and the Lady Leopards breezed to that achievement, going 10-0 while outscoring their league foes, 57-1. That momentum spilled over to the postseason, and should give Lorena something upon which to build for 2022.
“I’m glad we had a little bit of a run in the playoffs,” Rolf said. “I’d like to — in the long term — build up the program and get more kids interested, especially at a younger age. We have a lot that come in and start soccer much later, sometimes their freshman year of high school we’re teaching them how to play soccer.”
Rolf actually spends part of his school day working with Lorena's middle school athletes. So, the coach has already started pouring the foundation for future success. Moreover, just having a year under his belt as a head coach should be beneficial.
“I learned a lot, obviously being at a new school, seeing how things worked,” he said. “Obviously, working with girls. I really look forward to next year. I think it’s great for the girls returning. They know me now, they know what I expect. … That’s going to help as well, just having that familiarity of expectation amongst all of us. It’s just going to be a huge blessing, I think.”
Newcomer of the Year: Ella Wheeless, Lake Belton
When Ella Wheeless was a little kid and first getting interested in organized sports, she told her parents she didn’t want to play softball. “I didn’t want to get hit in the face with the ball,” she said, laughing.
So they signed her up for soccer instead, and now it’s the other teams who are ducking out of the way, so they don’t take one of her mighty missiles off the kisser.
In her first varsity year playing for a brand new program, Wheeless put together one of the great freshman seasons in Central Texas history. She pounded 43 goals and distributed 15 assists to lead Central Texas in scoring, and was an easy choice for Super Centex Newcomer of the Year.
Wheeless actually considered playing basketball this season. But she excelled so much in Lake Belton’s preseason soccer skill workouts that she opted to just focus on the pitch.
Nevertheless, she might as well be Larry Bird out there, because her movement without the ball puts her in great shape to find the net once the ball reaches her.
“I think her ability to read the game,” said Lake Belton coach Jamie Brown, when asked what makes Wheeless special. “She moves off the ball really well, so she finds herself in those open holes, which gets her the ball more often and has more chances on goal. Then obviously she has great touch and can finish the ball.”
If this was the soft opening for Wheeless and the Lake Belton Broncos, can you imagine what the grand opening will look like? The freshman took on a team captain role for a program comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores — the new school won’t have a senior class until the 2023 school year — and pushed Lake Belton to a 27-5 record and a trip to the regional semifinals.
“I didn’t really know it was going to go as well as it did,” Wheeless said. “I didn’t know we had this many girls who had played soccer before. But it ended up turning out better than I expected.”
This soccer thing has worked out pretty well for Ella Wheeless. Even though, yes, she has taken a soccer ball off the face a time or two.
“Yeah, but I really didn’t think about that when I was little,” she said.
2021 SUPER CENTEX GIRLS SOCCER TEAM
|Player of the Year: Kirsten Bush, Sr, F, Belton|
|Newcomer of the Year: Ella Wheeless, Fr, F, Lake Belton|
|Coach of the Year: Noah Rolf, Lorena|
|F||Ella Wheeless||Fr||Lake Belton|
|MF||Tristen Oliphant||Fr||Lake Belton|
|D||Alenah Smith||Sr||La Vega|
|F||Ja’Kerra Holt||Sr||Cameron Yoe|
|MF||Julie Preiser||Sr||Cameron Yoe|
|MF||Macee Bradford||So||Lake Belton|
|Cassie Guerrero, Robinson; Alexis Willis and Emily Diaz, Temple|
Multi-year Super Centex performer closes career as Player of Year after tallying 32 goals for District 12-6A champions Lady Tigers.
Fr, Lake Belton
Exploded onto the scene by leading Central Texas in scoring (43 goals, 15 assists) while helping first-year Broncos to regional semifinals.
KJ joyfully killed many a defender’s hopes, as the District 17-4A MVP capped off brilliant career with a 25-goal senior season.
District offensive MVP flashed scintillating speed to leave defenders behind and lead Rockets with 24 goals, 7 assists.
District 12-6A MVP beautifully ran the show for Belton, proving adept at calling her own number (23 goals) or others (24 assists).
Described as a “great pivot player” by her coach, Navarro could either blow up opposing attacks or make her own (14 goals).
Fr, Lake Belton
Versatile attacking midfielder made an easy transition to high school soccer, scoring 29 goals and tallying 9 assists in varsity debut.
Team captain, district co-offensive MVP helped Lorena dominate in midfield, and stepped up to provide scoring (14 goals) when needed.
Dynamic defender also scored nine goals, including two game-winners, and will further her soccer career at Allegheny College.
Sr, La Vega
Three-year starter slickly shuffled between center back and defensive midfielder, acted as “heart and soul” of team, said her coach.
Turner used intelligence to cut off attacks, as Lorena allowed only one goal in district play, and that came after a handball penalty.
Texas State signee never allowed more than one goal in any of district champ Belton’s matches, pitched 13 shutouts on season.
First-year head coach, former Midway assistant led Lady Leopards to a perfect regular season and a trip to third round of playoffs.