The Robert E. Lee girls soccer team and Asia Almaraz, left, are expecting bigger and better things with a year of maturity following a season that saw numerous young players hit the pitch a year ago.

It can only go up for the Robert E. Lee girls soccer program.

With added maturity, skill and strength the Lady Ganders are banking on that as the season closes in with a 6 p.m. Jan. 9 opening date at Fort Bend Marshall.

The REL girls finished head coach Jonathan Cherry’s first year 5-15-2 overall while managing only a tie in 14 District 22-5A matches.

With 10 returning varsity players including Evany Flores, Diana Luna, Gaby Leija providing senior leadership, an upward trend is expected this spring.

“Our returning players are showing a lot of improvement from last year,” Cherry said. “We need to keep improving on our skill and understanding of the game.”

A lot of their battles came from just being physically smaller.

“We didn’t just spend the time out here doing drills, we made sure we were in the weight room,” Cherry said. “We want these girls to realize that if they are not going to get taller, they are going to have get tougher.

“You can’t make the playoffs if you are pushed around. They have to respect you and we have to compete with the best of them.

Cherry has seen his girls play in the preseason, dropping a 2-1 decision against Sterling in a hotly contested scrimmage on Dec. 13.

“We want our girls to be aggressive with our challenges and we allowed Sterling to come out in the first half and be the aggressor,” Cherry said. “We had a great opportunity to tie the game if not for the missed penalty and we had several crosses and close shots – one that hit the post. It was a very close game.”

The players are feeling things are trending in the right direction.

“I’ve seen a lot of progress and especially from the freshmen and newcomers,” Leija said. “We have been working out a lot more this year. It’s also about getting after the ball and having the mentality for fighting for the ball.”

The district won’t get any easier so Cherry knows to make the leap into playoff contention will take some work.

“Our district is very competitive and I hope we can be a better challenge to our district opponents,” he said.

The team is ready to make its mark.

“We didn’t have a good season last season so we have more fight in us this year to win a couple more games and get it going,” Luna said. “We just had to come together. You can’t quit and you have to keep going.”

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