Above photo of Alex Bethke (No. 9) provided by Alex Bethke
BELTON- The UMHB soccer program enters the 2022 season with momentum, coming off a stellar showing last fall that saw the Cru glide through the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record in ASC play. Led by first-year head coach Ben Allen this season, UMHB’s roster will feature plenty of new faces, as Allen and former head coach Brad Bankhead (now serving as UMHB’s Associate Athletic Director) recruited a number of talented Class of 2022 high schoolers and transfers, adding to the strength of the 2022 roster. That includes two stars from the reigning UIL 6A state champions, Lake Travis High School.
We caught up with one of them, Alex Bethke, an All-State forward and two-time district MVP, recently, discussing his recruitment to Belton, excitement as the 2022 season nears, and his memories of Lake Travis’ state title run, plus much more. What Bethke accomplished during his prep career, especially after a breakout junior season, is remarkable, as he garnered local and statewide honors, including All-Central Texas Player of the Year in 2021. He scored 35 goals in 28 games as a senior.
Bethke and the Crusaders open the year on August 17, in a 7:30 p.m. exhibition against Hill College in Belton. The first official match of the slate is set for Sept. 1 at Houston-Victoria.
What stuck out to you about UMHB as you went through the recruiting process?
AB: “I know a couple of guys there and I think it immediately popped up on the radar as soon as I decided I wanted to be in Texas. Once I talked to the guys and heard about the community feel of the program, it became an extra motivator for me. You have to play for something, and having that in high school, it was something I wanted to be a part of in college. It definitely made UMHB stick out to me, and the facilities are incredible. The commitment to improve them is something I’ve never seen around this area. Those were two really big factors for me.”
Ben Allen has stepped up as the new head coach entering this fall after being an assistant for the last two years. What kind of impact did the coaching staff have on your commitment?
AB: “I got to visit the school twice. And I saw either Coach Bankhead or Coach Allen at a number of my high school and club games. It was very clear what their purpose and desire was, and that feeling of being wanted was really nice. They gave me all the information I could need, and them talking to my parents over dinner was fantastic for [my parents] and their confidence in the school. I don’t think they could have done much better honestly.”
You played for one of the state’s premier high school programs in Lake Travis. In fact, you all claimed the 6A State Championship Title recently in May, with a 1-0 win on placekicks over Plano. How did playing at such a high level there impact you as a young player?
AB: “Every year I was there, there was that sense of expectation, so there was a little more pressure, but I enjoyed that. Especially this past year. Because in my junior season, we had a really good year and came up just short [of state], but that drew in the attention of everyone, so the support from the community during that last year was something like I’ve never seen before. The day before the state final, I couldn’t go a minute without my phone going off, and someone from the area wishing us good luck. To play for something like that, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience something just like that again.
“There were 6,000 people in the stadium for a high school game and it showed me how keeping that motivation and working towards the same goal, even if we didn’t have that level of success for three years, can be worth it in the end. I think it really helped me grow and showed me how important something can become to a community if you’re drawn in it. I had a good feeling [we would win] before we started the penalty shootout, but I cannot even explain the emotions after. It was incredible. I have no other words to describe it.”
Your list of accolades and honors during your senior year is long. Did you anticipate that kind of recognition and success as you entered the season?
AB: “Totally. Most of those accolades I received in my junior year as well, so that wasn’t a huge driving force. I wasn’t too worried about it, because I had made that achievement, but what we needed next was to win it all. Before the season, we were ranked No. 1 in the state. Nobody likes being No. 1 because they usually don’t win. So I think it was really important to identify that we knew we had a very good chance and the only way we would differentiate ourselves from everyone else with the same goal was by the work we put in and commitment we had to each other.
You mentioned Ben Platt’s name a few minutes ago. The two of you were part of the same high school and club programs, and both committed to UMHB as well. Do you think having him there in Beltion will make the transition a little bit easier for you?
AB: “I think it’ll make the transition a lot easier. I’ve played with him over the past four years, so to have someone that I can link that well with is going to be really helpful. I haven’t played a game in my life over the last three years without him, so it would’ve been a weird thing to not keep that going. Obviously I’m hoping to link up just as well with the other guys on the team, but having him there will make it a great transition for me and him too.”
What are you most excited for as you enter your freshman year here in a couple of weeks?
AB: “I’m just excited to get into it. It’s not much more than that. I’m looking forward to getting into preseason and playing at a much higher level and competing for something greater than I have before. I have a goal this season to make a major contribution to the team as much as I can. I’m really excited to get going.”