Land O’ Lakes girls reach state soccer finals

The Land O’ Lakes girls soccer team might have surprised some people by reaching the Class 3A state finals. But it didn’t surprise their coach.

“I said at our parent meeting (last October) I have high expectations. I expect to be in the state finals in February,” said coach Vicky King.

The Land O' Lakes girls soccer team reached the state finals with an attacking offense and stifling defense. (Courtesy of Vicky King)

The Land O’ Lakes girls soccer team reached the state finals with an attacking offense and stifling defense.
(Courtesy of Vicky King)

And if King believes something, there’s good reason to take her at her word. After 28 seasons coaching the team, including a state title in 2003, King has established herself as a good judge of talent. And King was right on the money last October, leading the Gators to a perfect 8-0 record in Class 3A-8, a 1-0 victory over Matanzas in the regional final and a close 2-1 victory over Ponte Vedra in the state semifinal that ended with penalty kicks to determine the winner.

Land O’ Lakes eventually fell in a 2-1 overtime loss to defending state champion American Heritage. But they were right where King said they’d be in February and finished with a 24-2 record.

King knew early on she had the talent to go far in the playoffs. In fact, she said this was the most talented Land O’ Lakes team that she’s coached. And they weren’t just dominant in one part of the game.

“It’s a very well-rounded team,” King said. “We’ve always been very good defensively, but we produced a lot more off this year and had a lot of offensive threats.”

There were a few minor setbacks along the way, King said. Late buses, rescheduled games and a late start to pre-season tryouts were just a few obstacles they overcame. But they had some good luck, too, like avoiding major injuries. All 22 players who started the season were available in the state final.

Throughout the season, they played the same attacking style regardless of opponent, and it served them well. Although they were ahead most of the time, they did come from behind in a couple of games during the year. Those comebacks showed perseverance, King said, and an ability to work through difficulties as a team without pointing fingers and blaming each other.

The coach credits the team’s juniors and seniors for keeping expectations high and teaching the program’s philosophy to the younger players. It’s up to them, King said, to be leaders and take ownership in their success on the field.

“I coach them, but it’s their team,” she said.

One of those players is junior Tori Cannata, who has already committed to playing at the next level for the University of Arkansas. She believes that even though the players are the ones on the pitch, the coach is a big part of the team’s success.

“What makes coach King special is the way she runs the program,” Cannata said. “Everyone just respects her completely.”

To show that respect, players give their best effort to prove they belong on the team, and practice hard so as not to let up on the program’s momentum.

This year’s momentum also meant some well-deserved accolades for the coach, as well. King won the 2015 Florida Dairy Farmers Girls’ Soccer Class 3A Coach of the Year award.

While she said it’s an honor to be recognized and appreciates the award, it’s clear she doesn’t like too much attention directed at herself, but instead thinks it should be on the team. She’s won awards before, but when asked for details she preferred not to elaborate on her personal accomplishments.

“If you really need it, I can tell you how many times (she’s won coach of the year awards), but whatever,” King said.

Instead, she likes to focus on the team and maintaining a quality program. She’ll lose four seniors (two of whom are starters), so most of the team should remain intact. And with good depth to help replace the players they’re losing, they should continue to be a competitive team.

While they fell just short of a state title, King can look back on this past season as one of the best.

“We have to consider it one of our most successful seasons as far as level of play, the dominance, going it to the final four, winning the semifinal on (penalty kicks),” she said. “Those were all great deeds.”

Published April 8, 2015

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