By Zack Peterson
Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
In only their second season, the Steinbrenner girls soccer team toppled the defending state champions to earn the school’s first state title. The Warriors defeated Merritt Island 2-1 Saturday, Feb. 12 to claim the Class 4A crown.
“It’s the last game, we had to give everything” said Marissa Marries, a senior who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s just nuts; it’s nuts that we won.”
After a momentous season, the Warriors (21-2-2) worked their way through regionals, and with a 1-0 victory against Naples Barron Collier, advanced into the state final four.
Driven with the goal at the beginning of the year to compete at the state level, the Warriors played “without pressure” as coach Teresa Patterson put it. With this philosophy in mind, the Warriors went on to defeat Harmony with an early goal, solid defense and ultimately, a 1-0 victory in the state semis Feb. 10 at the University of Tampa.
Then, matched against Merritt Island, the Warriors took the lead with another opening goal by Marries’ header in the 16th minute.
“I’m proud of the fact that we came out strong,” Patterson said. “We made a commitment to have strong energy for every game.”
But as the game ensued, the Warriors struggled to hold off the Mustangs fast-paced offense. With 13
seconds remaining in the first half, Merritt Island’s Kirstie Schults cut across the field and scored on Steinbrenner goalkeeper Stephanie Hirsch to level the score.
Still, Patterson did not panic.
“I don’t get worried,” Patterson explained. “I know that sounds cliché, but as long as they do the small things they’re OK. I’ve seen in every situation, and they’ve always found a way to win.”
In the second half, the Mustangs continued to push, forcing the Warriors defense to pull together and counter the attacks with every ounce of strength they had.
As the situation heightened, the Warriors knew it was time to act.
“We knew if they scored it was over,” said Lauren Laughlin, a senior known for her defense and her exciting front-flip throw-ins. “We had to score a goal.”
However, neither the Mustangs nor the Warriors scored another goal, and the Warriors stood strong on defense, limiting the Mustangs to only five shots on goal.
At the end of regulation, the score stood frozen at 1-1, forcing overtime.
After running out with a new fire, the Warriors worked their way down field, and pushed their way to two corner kicks. Then with less than three minutes remaining in the first overtime, Laughlin perfected her front-flip throw-in, connecting with senior Carly Keene’s head for the winning goal.
“I was just trying to find Carly’s head,” Laughlin said. “I was so excited; we usually don’t score on my throws.”
The victory electrified Steinbrenner’s program, giving the Lutz school some hardware for the trophy case.
“This was destiny,” Patterson said. “They came out with fire and they made it happen. I’m honored to be part of this program with students so committed and faculty so supportive.”
For the three seniors on the team, the experience was magical.
“It feels amazing. It’s unexplainable,” Keene said. “It was everything we wanted and we achieved it. I can’t even put words to it.”
As Hirsch puts it, “It’s great to have our seniors go out scoring our best two goals of the season. We did what we’ve done all year, We held them in and packed them in tight. During that second half we had to stay positive, but it was a team effort, and I’m happy to have such great teammates.”