By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch High girls soccer players overcame the butterflies in their stomachs entering the first regional tournament game in program history to beat Gulf High at home 2-0 Jan. 27.
Wiregrass Ranch (22-2-2) hadn’t even won a district tournament game before this season, and now they are district champs with a regional tournament win.
“It almost felt like it was a state of disbelief,” said first-year Bulls coach Erin Dodd of the team’s mindset entering the regional quarterfinals. “Wow, we’re here. We’re really here. This is it. I think a lot of people on the team itself are starting to realize that we are a very good team and that we can go far.”
Wiregrass Ranch sophomore Anne Cypriano described it as more of a fantasy.
“It’s really a dream,” Cypriano said. “We talked about trying to win districts from day one. It was just win the next game at the start, but then it became more try and get to districts and win it. Then to do this and win in regionals. It’s just amazing.”
The Bulls also had to overcome several injuries to starters in the contest, including losing senior midfielder and team captain Nicole Esposito before the 10-minute mark to a lower leg injury.
Wiregrass Ranch shook off the damage and scored with 15:13 left in the first when sophomore forward Berlin Waters put home a pass from junior midfielder Christina Wojaczyk. Fellow sophomore forward A.J. Blount added an insurance goal less than four minutes later with an assist from Cypriano.
“We’re not lucky,” Blount said. “We’re very blessed to be able to come out here and do what we did. It’s amazing. It just feels good to help the team get here.”
The sophomore forward combination of Waters and Blount has accounted for 59 of the Bulls’ 101 goals on the season, but Blount deflected all praise onto the team.
“I don’t think it’s our combination,” Blount said. “I think it’s just how the whole team works together. When the whole team works together, you can do more than any one or two players can alone.”
Dodd agreed with Blount’s sentiment.
“I think we have a very strong midfield to feed the ball into the forwards to control the flow of the game,” Dodd said. “But also we have two very fast forwards and very skilled forwards and it’s hard to double team both of them or to put that much pressure on two people. Eventually space is going to open up and it did.”
Even though the Bulls defeated Gulf (17-3-1) in shutout fashion, Dodd sees room for improvement. Wiregrass Ranch had 18 shots in the game and the coach hopes to see more of those turn into goals in the regional semis.
“I felt confident that we were capable of winning,” Dodd said. “I still don’t think we played our best soccer. I think we could have played better. I give a lot of credit to Gulf because they are a good team. They kept us on our toes.”
But for a team still forging its name in soccer, the bigger picture is they will always have that first regional victory.
“It’s just a whirlwind,” Dodd said. “Going from winning the first district game in school history to now hosting a regional game and I think we get to host another one; I don’t know if any of us have been able to wrap our minds around it. This has been a great season and the girls and I want to carry it as far as we can.”
The Bulls next play at home against district rival River Ridge High Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. The Bulls and Knights have played three times this year, with Wiregrass Ranch winning two including a 3-2 win in the district finals.
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