By Kyle LoJacono
Two of Pasco County’s premier girls soccer teams met on Dec. 21 and played 80 minutes that appeared like a contest more akin to what’s played on a football gridiron.
Wiregrass Ranch (12-4) took the physical contest 2-1 at Land O’ Lakes (11-4-2) in a game that featured five yellow cards, three on the Gators.
Bulls coach Erin Dodd said the rough-and-tumble play will help her squad prepare for what is to come when district tournaments begin in less than a month.
“It’s definitely good because we know we can come out on top in these games, and we know we can be physical,” Dodd said. “Five cards, I don’t think I’d seen that in my coaching career. We knew it was going to go that way. This rivalry is there and we came out on top.”
Land O’ Lakes coach Vicky King also took positives from the contest.
“If only we could play consistently like this,” King said. “This is one of the better teams we’ve played and we rose to the occasion. We scored early and we had a couple more opportunities. They’re a good team, and we’ll improve from this.”
The Gators opened up the scoring in the 6th minute when Alyssa Lonsway found Catherine Gray.
The Bulls midfielder Christina Wojaczyk answered less than 3 minutes later when she buried home a crossing pass that snuck past Land O’ Lakes goalkeeper Ariana Bailey.
The game went to halftime tied, but Dodd made it plain to her squad she was not pleased with the play in the opening period.
“I really can’t repeat everything that I said at halftime,” Dodd said with a smile. “We did have a really candid discussion about how we were playing and how we needed to play because that team that was out there in the first half I don’t know who that was.”
Dodd’s message hit home and Wiregrass Ranch dominated the ball from the start for the second until the water break.
“That just means the whole team realized what was happening and what needed to be fixed, and they fixed it,” Dodd said. “That’s all you can hope for when things are going the wrong way.”
Midfielder/forward Anne Cypriano said the team was too calm going into the game, which may have resulted in the lack-luster play during the first 40 minutes.
“People were really relaxed going into the game,” Cypriano said. “We said ‘oh it’ll be a fine game,’ but every time we say that we end up not playing up to our potential. I think we realized that after the first half. People started to think about the rivalry and got into the game.”
While the Bulls controlled the pace of play, they were unable to score until 22 minutes into the second. The scoring chance came when the Gators failed to score on a direct free kick awarded after Wiregrass Ranch keeper Dayton Wetherby slide out of her box while trying to make a save.
The Bulls quickly turned defense into offense and forced a free kick of their own taken by midfielder Linsee Newby.
Newby’s kick didn’t find the back of the net, but the rebound bounced to the feet of Cypriano. The junior capitalized on the opportunity to send her team out a winner.
“I didn’t think the ball would come to me at first, so when I saw the rebound come to me I just thought I have to put this in,” Cypriano said. “We were tied 1-1, so I guess my instinct was to just kick it really hard, and it went in even though it hit a couple girls.”
Wiregrass Ranch travels to district rival Sickles on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m., while the Gators play at Mitchell on Friday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m.