By Kyle LoJacono
Cici Gonzalez joins 30/30 club
Steinbrenner junior Cici Gonzalez is a member of a very exclusive club. She is the only Hillsborough County girls soccer player with at least 30 goals and 30 assists this season.
Gonzalez put up a team-high 33 goals and 34 assists this year, but the numbers mean little to the team captain.
“I’m just trying to get our team to win,” Gonzalez said. “I could care less if I have the most goals in the country. I just want us to win, so if someone else has the ability to score, I give it to them, and if I have it, I shoot. It’s just instinct honestly. In my head it just happens and when it works out, I love it.”
Steinbrenner has only been open for two years, but every time Gonzalez scores or passes she breaks her own program record for goals and assists, which sit at 62 and 59 respectively.
“Of course it feels great to score, but if we’re getting it in the back of the net I could care less who does it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a team effort and it’s always been that way.”
Hirsch’s life between the pipes
Being a goalkeeper is one of the more stressful positions on a soccer team because any one mistake can lead to the game-losing tally.
Steinbrenner’s starting keeper Stephanie Hirsch handled that pressure, allowing only five goals in more than 1,000 minutes. Hirsch said being technically sound in net is important, but her role does not end there.
“I also need to make sure my defense is doing exactly what they need to,” Hirsch said. “I’m so confident in my forwards, but when it comes down to me and it’s my ball, I live for that. When it’s me making the save, that’s what I love.”
Warriors coach Teresa Patterson said her team was fortunate to have two quality goalkeepers.
“Courtney Keene is also great,” Patterson said. “She got sick at the start of the season and Stephanie came in and played just as well.”
Patterson, a Largo High graduate, was a goalkeeper.
“She knows exactly what she’s talking about so I just listen to everything she says,” Hirsch said.
New kids on the block
In 2009, Steinbrenner won a district championship and the first regional tournament game in school history.
That was the first year for the Lutz school. In the second season the Warriors brought home a state championship with some help from new players working with the established squad.
Danielle Eule, Miranda Gonzalez, Megan Haraschak and Lindsay Steffes are freshman and goalkeeper Stephanie Hirsch, a sophomore, transferred in from Alonso High. Eule, Gonzalez and Hirsch all started in the state finals win.
“I knew if I wanted to be a starter I needed to work very hard,” Eule said. “When I learned I was good enough to start on a team as good as this, it gave me confidence.”
Eule had 11 goals and 12 assists this season. Gonzalez added two scores and four assists and Haraschak notched two tallies. Hirsch became the starting goalkeeper near the start of the season. She allowed only five goals in more than 1,000 minutes and made 65 saves.
Next year those freshmen will be seasoned veterans, but with the addition of state titles on their resumes.
“I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that we’ve won the first state championship for Steinbrenner,” Hirsch said.
Coaching a pack of Warriors
Coaches of new programs usually are resigned to the fact that their team will take a few years to become competitive, but Steinbrenner High coach Teresa Patterson had other plans.
She started the program when the school opened in 2009. Less than two years later her Warriors are the reigning state champions.
“I knew they were coming from good club teams,” Patterson said. “I knew the talent-level was very high. I thought if I could manage them and get them to gel, set a culture of success and get them to pay attention to detail, we would be able to win a state title.
“That really was our goal to win within the first two years,” Patterson continued. “It has to be your goal and we have such a talented group of student-athletes.”
Patterson graduated from Largo High and played at Mercer University. She was an assistant on the first team at the University for Alabama at Birmingham and was the first girls soccer coach at Marshall University. She then moved to the high school level, leading the Gaither High program in 2008 before coming over to Steinbrenner.
“It’s been my profession to be a coach after college,” Patterson said. “I like the fact that I can help student-athletes meet and exceed their goals and to collectively work together to accomplish such things.
“I just feel that on the athletic side I can do that over the course of their academic career, where as a teacher you get the opportunity to do it for a semester or a year,” Patterson continued. “It makes it incredibly rewarding to see the personal growth and the collective growth of a group.”
Injury and title to fuel Opila
One week before the Steinbrenner girls soccer team started practice, Marley Opila’s season ended.
The sophomore turned sharply with the ball, felt a sharp pain and a pop in her left knee and fell to the ground. Opila tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). She was one of the top offensive players for the Warriors last season, scoring 16 goals and recorded 17 assists.
She was one of three Warriors who suffered torn ACLs this season, including junior Lexy Bubley and freshman Rebecca Tabor. The three formed a kind of club to support each other.
“We all do everything together,” Opila said. “We all talk to each other about what we’re going through. We help each other out.”
Opila said the physical training has been hard, but the mental side of dealing with the injury has been worse.
“Thinking why did it happen and how do I make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Opila said.
Patterson said Bubley has been a big reason for the program’s success. She added that Tabor is a talented young player who should add a lot to the team in the coming years.
“I’m very excited about our prospects moving forward,” Patterson said. “We get Marley Opila back from a knee injury. She’s a great central player who will fill in for Marissa Maries (a senior).We’ll get Lexy Bubley and Rebecca Tabor, plus we have a good group of freshman coming in. I think we can be competitive again.”
Opila is hoping for just that because while she has a state championship, she is hoping to be on the field next year when the final whistle blows.
“It gives me so much drive to help get them back and feel like a state champion,” Opila said. “I want to actually help the team win the title. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can for next season. I’m learning from everyone else to help the team get better and win another state championship next year.”
-All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.