Wiregrass Ranch off to best start in program history
By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch High girls soccer team has started better than any squad in the school’s five-year history and seems poised to make a run at the Class 4A, District 8 title.
The Bulls have started 11-0-1 through their first 12 contests, including wins against the reigning district champs and runner-up in River Ridge High and Land O’ Lakes respectively. Prior to this season, Wiregrass Ranch had never beaten either of those opponents in nine opportunities.
“It’s really exciting because we weren’t expecting it,” said senior co-captain Nicole Esposito, a midfielder. “We’ve been coming together more as a team this year when in the past we weren’t as in sync with each other.”
Other teams have taken notice of the Bulls fast start.
“They’ve had several graduating classes now and you can see their progress,” said 24-year Land O’ Lakes girls soccer coach Vicky King. “A lot of their girls play on club teams and they have a good middle school program that feeds into the school. They’re a much improved team.”
Senior midfielder Camille Wilson is honored other coaches are speaking highly of them, but does not want the squad to get ahead of itself because the season is only half complete.
“A fast start is one thing, but we’re looking to be the best at the end of the season going into districts,” said Wilson, a co-captain. “We’ve never won a game in the district tournament and we want to change that.”
Only two teams from each district advance to the postseason — the tournament champ and the runner-up. Land O’ Lakes has made the playoffs every year since 2000 and River Ridge since 2006.
“It’s a really tough district,” said senior midfielder Sierra Monday, who played at Land O’ Lakes as a freshman and sophomore. “Really, the difference between this year and last year is our great coach. She’s brought a new level to our team we didn’t have before. She knows all the little things to take us from an ok team to a playoff team.”
First-year Bulls coach Erin Dodd took over the Wiregrass Ranch program after coaching four years at Dr. John Long Middle. Her Longhorns teams had a combined record of 30-3-3, including winning 26 straight games the last three seasons.
While Dodd is no longer coaching middle school soccer, she still teachers at John Long and understands the importance of staying connected with the Longhorns and other feeder schools.
“I want this to be a program that has a good relationship with the middle school and a program that people want to come out and be a part of,” Dodd said. “I want it to be a place that other schools model after because we do things the right way.
“I’ve coached 70 percent of the kids out here in middle school, so that made coming in new a lot easier,” Dodd continued. “It’s easier to learn a couple of kids than them all. It’s been a big help in the transition.”
One member of Dodd’s undefeated John Long team has moved up with her on the Bulls varsity squad. Freshman defender Grace Olsen was on the last two Longhorns teams that went undefeated. Add those seasons to the Bulls current run and she has not tasted defeat in either middle or high school through the first 12 games of this season.
“The biggest difference in middle school and high school is people are a lot more competitive in high school,” Olsen said. “… I was really surprised I made the varsity team because of how good all the players are. I was sure I’d make (junior varsity), but making varsity was special.”
Olsen played on the FC Tampa Lutz Rangers, a new competitive soccer program, during the summer to help prepare for the tougher high school season. Her work paid off as she is the only freshman on the Bulls varsity team.
Olsen has been key contributor to a defense that has allowed just 10 goals in the Bulls first 12 games. Sophomore goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby has gotten most of the time in net, recording two shutouts and 29 saves.
Sophomore forward A.J. Blount has a team-high 19 goals and nine assists, followed by sophomore forwards Berlin Waters and Anne Cypriano with nine and five goals respectively.
Monday has added four goals and four assists to the Wiregrass Ranch offense, while Esposito checks in with a goal and three assists.
The Bulls had a game against Citrus High Dec. 6, but results were not available by press time. The squad will next play in a rematch against River Ridge in New Port Richey Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. The winner will have the inside track at the No. 1 seed in the 4A-8 tournament, which is at Land O’ Lakes this season.
-All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.