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Port Neches-Groves soccer dreaming of state championship

Four games into the preseason, the Port Neches-Groves soccer team has one focus — getting better each day.

PNG head coach Aimee Bates said her team has goals but they must be achieved one day at a time.

“Our goal right now is to get better,” she said. “We want to play the best soccer we can play in district. We are sharpening the saw and learning where everyone fits on the field. Looking past that, we want to go undefeated in district. Looking past that, we want to go as far as we can in the playoffs. We have a dream to go to state. For the past five years, obviously last year was cut short, we’ve been to the regional tournament. We are knocking on the door of that dream.”

The team headed into the Waller Classic on Friday with a 2-2 record on the season.

Bates said she believes her team is in a good spot early in the preseason.

“I’m happy where we are right now,” she said. “We are playing in a tough bracket of 6A schools and holding our own with them and competing. I would like to see us connect a little more in the final third and score, but we are doing well defensively. I feel like we are sitting pretty this early in the season.”

Bates said she enjoys the challenge of playing tougher 6A opponents because it forces her squad to play up to their level.

“I find that when you play tougher opponents, it makes you stronger,” she said. “We look forward to those teams that may be faster and stronger. We have to challenge ourselves and we walk away from those matches as a better team.”

She hopes the grind can prepare the team for a rigorous district schedule.

Bates said playing each match feels good, given she wasn’t certain the season would even happen due to the global pandemic that cut the soccer short last year.

“We are not guaranteed tomorrow or next week,” she said. “All of our eggs are in the basket every match. We are thankful we get to play and we are going at it with everything we’ve got. The girls, especially the ones coming back from last year, are thankful and grateful to be able to compete.”

As the number of coronavirus cases and death tolls rise, Bates said she fears the season could be cut short any day.

“We talk about it a lot,” she said. “We tell them to live for today and soak it up, so if it does get called, we can be happy where we left the season. We want to be firing on all cylinders and giving it everything we’ve got.”

Seven players returned for PNG this season.

“We have Kelsie Comeaux coming back,” Bates said. “She is a four-year senior along with Grace Richard. They are leaders out there and help set the tempo.”

Bates said Tori Cutright and Abby Reeves provide senior leadership for the team.

Richard signed a letter of intent in December to play soccer at Lamar University after she graduates from PNG.

“For the past seven years, we have had eight kids go on to the next level and play soccer,” Bates said. “I think it makes girls dream to be bigger. Three seniors got offers last year to play somewhere and they decided not to. We are lucky that we get highly skilled soccer players in this area. We are skill rich. They come to us ready to go. They are passionate. It is inspiring.”