J.B. Gibbs inherited a Brownwood Lions soccer program that was coming off a one-win campaign and in three short seasons, the Lions have regained their status as district champions.
Friday night at Gordon Wood Stadium, the Lions (15-2-2, 9-0) will attempt to become the first Brownwood boys soccer team to complete a district campaign undefeated as the 34-4A champs host Lorena at 7:30 p.m.
“The guys who have been in the program for three years are the first wave who have played soccer year round,” Gibbs said. “We’ve added a class that Coach (Don) Hood heads up that I help out with, we’ve brought in more conditioning and the guys run cross country, which helps a lot. It’s hard to be a good athlete when you sit for eight months and only play for four. Now they’re playing year round, running year around and I think that’s made a huge difference.”
Lions senior captains Michael Westerman and Jacob Salazar attributed the Lions’ rapid ascent to the coaching staff.
“It has a lot of do with the coaching,” Westerman said. “Our freshman year we had a lot of individual players, but Coach Gibbs helped us to play as a team and play together. We’ve also learned the game of soccer and developed the mind set to play soccer.”
Added Salazar, “Coach Gibbs brought us together and we have much better chemistry.”
Gibbs, who is pulling double duty as head coach of both the Lions and Lady Lions, credits assistant Scott Swanzy for playing a considerable role in Brownwood’s success.
“Coach Swanzy has been a coach I can count on,” Gibbs said. “He’s a good role model for the boys.”
The Lions are 9-0 in district and, more impressively, have reeled off 15 wins in their last 16 games, with some of those coming against Class 5A foes.
“Playing 5As was our main test on how far we could go once district started,” Westerman said. “Once we started putting up good competition against 5A schools, and even beating some of them, that’s when our self esteem and confidence boosted.”
Added Salazar, “Playing the 5A schools helped us when it was time to play smaller schools. You have to play a much faster pace against 5A schools.”
Even Gibbs is surprised by the roll the Lions are currently experiencing.
“I thought we’d have a good year, but I never expected 15 out of 16,” Gibbs said. “We’re on a run now where we expect to win every time we go out there. In years past, we just showed up and thought maybe we could win. This year we expect to win.”
The Lions will begin their postseason journey at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Waco Robinson against a yet to be determined foe. Before focusing on the playoffs, however, the Lions want to cap an undefeated district run.
“Our goal is to be the first Brownwood team to be undefeated, 10-0 district champs,” Salazar said. “And we want to go deeper in the playoffs than any team.”
Added Westerman, “We made it three rounds deep last year and one of our goals is we want to make it back to where we did last year and take it a step further.”
Brownwood is now located in Region III, however, which Gibbs believes is much tougher than Region I where the Lions previously resided.
“It’ll be tougher than last year,” Gibbs said. “We played three straight district champs last year and that’s hard to do, but there’s not as many teams out west so you automatically get a first-round bye. This year we’re going to face team after team. We’re start off playing around Waco, then go to East Texas, then around the Houston area. If we win the first two, we’ll probably play Brenham again.”
Brenham is the only team to defeat the Lions in the last 16 games.
Gibbs would also like to see the Lions advance further than last year’s squad.
“We’ve already had a successful season but I don’t want to rest on that,” Gibbs said. “It’s hard to say specifically as a target, but I would love to go to regionals. Last year we were one game away from regionals and that would be a great goal to shoot for. But I know this road will be tougher than last year.”
In terms of what it will take for the Lions to surpass the postseason run of 2012, the team captains pointed to focus.
“We just have to stay focused, motivated and support each other,” Salazar said.
Added Westerman, “We have to stay focused, take practice seriously, take warm ups seriously and everyone has to be on the same page.”