By Kyle LoJacono
It only seems like the Land O’ Lakes High girls soccer team has always made the playoffs.
The Gators (4-2-2) have reached the postseason each year since 2000, but have not won a district title since 2003, the same year they won the Class 2A state championship. The 2010-11 version has 13 seniors who are ready to bring home a district crown.
“We all want this to be our best year and a district championship is one of our goals,” said senior defender Natalie Fontanes. “We want to do everything we can to go far and to have no regrets at the end. We’re looking to go out with a bang.”
The team that has stood in Land O’ Lakes’ path the last five seasons has been River Ridge High. The Knights have won the district title at the Gators expense each of those years and have gotten off to a 7-2 mark including a 3-0 win at Land O’ Lakes. The two teams will face off again in New Port Richey Dec. 13.
“They’ve been that barrier for us,” said senior midfielder Alexis Villar. “Hopefully we can get past them this year.”
Senior defender Brittany Nieves added of River Ridge, “They’ve been tough the last bunch of years. They’re a good team, but we hope to be better than them by the end of the season.”
Things may be set up for the Gators to do just that as the Class 4A, District 8 tournament will be hosted by Land O’ Lakes this season. That plus the squad’s experience has 24-year coach Vicky King setting the bar high.
“The goal is to win the second state championship for the program,” King said. “We only have one and we’d like to double that this year. I expect a lot out of these players and they should think the same of themselves.”
King said the team is about 1/3 through their season and she has seen improvement since the start, but believes they have a long way to go.
“They’ll need to get much better to be where we want come districts,” King said. “We need to learn to always set the tempo in each game. We can’t let our opponent set the pace. We want to play fast because we have very good athletes. We can’t let teams slow us down and grind a game out because that’s not what gives us the best chance to win.”
Senior defender Keke Potts enjoys King’s tough approach to coaching. King also coaches Potts with the Fusion Futbol Club of Tampa Bay, which mainly plays out of fields in New Tampa.
“I’ve had her as a coach for years,” Potts said. “She’s basically the only coach I’ve ever had. She’s tough, but only because she sees the potential in you even if you can’t see it yourself. She helps you play your best.”
The Gators defense has allowed 12 goals through their first eight games, a goals against average of 1.5 per game. Senior goalkeeper Tara Marshall has saved 55 of 60 shots in those contests.
On the offensive side, senior Kala Robinson has a team-high five goals, followed by freshman Brooke Silvest’s three and Villar’s two.
Villar made the All-Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) first team last season in part because of her versatility. She can
also play forward or defense at any point and has worked hard during the summer to try and make the team again.
“It was really surprising to make the first team last year,” Villar said. “I can’t take the credit though because my team is so good. They’re the only reason I made the team.”
In addition, the Gators soccer team has several standout players from fall sports. Junior Alyssa Lonsway was one of the top runners for the Land O’ Lakes cross country team and has a pair of assists in soccer. On the volleyball court, Morgan Crescent was named the 2010 SAC player of the year.
“I think that shows that we have very good athletes,” King said. “Now we just have to bring it all together and hopefully we’ll be able to add to the banners in the gym.”
The Gators had a game at Hernando High Nov. 29, but results were not available by press time. Land O’ Lakes travels to play Wiregrass Ranch High Dec. 1 after the junior varsity contest.