Bulldogs learn to win on and off the field
By Kyle LoJacono
ZEPHYRHILLS — The easiest measure of any team is its record, but a closer look is needed when assessing Zephyrhills.
The Bulldogs (7-8-2) are seventh in Class 4A District 8. They may be under .500 on the field, but they are winning in the community.
“I wanted the girls to do a community service project, so we adopted three families in town through the Samaritan Project for Christmas,” said coach Mike Mira, who also is president of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Zephyrhills as well as a Meals on Wheels board member.
“We didn’t want to give the families just toys, but the whole Christmas experience,” Mira continued. “We choose the families based on who needed the most help and got them all food, clothes and toys.”
Mira said the team received money from his restaurant, Maine-ly New England, the local Home Depot and Toys for Tots of East Pasco to buy the supplies. Players wrapped presents and baked cookies, which were delivered to the families on Christmas Eve.
“It was humbling to help the families,” said Chelsea Smith, a co-captain and forward. “When we were going to the first house we were all joking in the car, but everything was serious after we got to the family.
“They were so grateful and were almost crying when we showed up with the presents. When we told them Merry Christmas, the grandmother said, ‘This year it will be.’”
Mira was one of four children raised by a single mother. He said he always received help and feels it is his duty to pay it forward to those struggling now.
“There were at least 700 families that could have used the help we gave to those three,” Mira said.
Co-captain and forward Amber Morgenstern said of helping the families, “We all know things are rough right now, but we weren’t expecting the families to not have power or food for Christmas. It was a powerful reminder to us to always be thankful for what we have and to help those who need it.”
Turning to the playing field, Zephyrhills has had a rebuilding year after losing eight players to graduation.
“We’ve lost so many good players and we were put in a district with a lot of good teams,” Smith said. “We lost some games that we’d like to have back and you can’t lose those games and have a high district seed.”
The district has three teams with at least ten wins — River Ridge, Lecanto and Wiregrass Ranch. Zephyrhills had a game against Pasco on Jan. 11, but the results were not available at press time.
Smith leads the Bulldogs with 15 goals and is second with six assists. The senior started the season as a midfielder, but moved to forward in the Bulldogs’ second game against Sunlake.
“I got a concussion and had to come out of the game for a while,” Smith said. “I went back in at forward and scored. I’ve been playing there since.”
Smith said the concussion was very minor and that she is completely healed from the injury.
Morgenstern, a senior, has a team-high seven assists and three goals.
“I hadn’t played with most of the underclassmen on the team, so we needed to click with each other,” Morgenstern said. “I also tore my meniscus in my knee playing with (the East Pasco Pirates), so I had to heal from that too. Things were rough at the beginning, but I think we’re coming together at the right time.”
The 4A-8 tournament is at River Ridge and starts on Jan. 18. Zephyrhills opens against Land O’ Lakes (7-4-6).
The Bulldogs may have lost eight seniors from last year, but the nine on the team want to continue their high school career as long as possible.
“We need to step things up for districts,” Smith said. “I’ve tried to get the whole team to understand that it might be the last game for all the seniors and I don’t want to go out in the first round.”
Mira is in his second season coaching Zephyrhills and seems to be making an impact on all levels of his players’ lives.
“I just want to say coach Mira is doing a great job here,” Morgenstern said. “People shouldn’t underestimate the Zephyrhills Bulldogs, because we’ll be ready to play.”
Player year position
- Lacey Cook GK Sr.
- Tara Nieves D Jr.
- Bradni Smith MF So.
- Jessica Plummer GK Sr.
- Heather Triplett D Sr.
- Kristin Delbridge MF Sr.
- Alex Viera MF Jr.
- Chelsea Smith MF Sr.
- Kiana Manatou MF Jr.
- Elizabeth Patrias GK Sr.
- Amber Morgenstern F Sr.
- Amanda Hilton F Sr.
- Sarah Denney D So.
- Jamieshia Parker F Jr.
- Sarah Touchton D So.
- Alex Fern F Jr.
- Amanda Smith MF So.
- Kate Patton HB Sr.
- Carly Patton S So.
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