By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner girls soccer team won the second tournament championship in the program’s three-year history by going 4-0 en route to claiming the Sarasota Holiday Tournament Gold Division crown.
“It’s a really exciting win for everyone,” said sophomore defender Miranda Gonzalez. “The whole team played amazing and I’m really proud of us.”
The Warriors (11-3-1), which won the tournament’s lower division two years ago, opened up the event by defeating Newsome 3-1 on Dec. 16, just eight days after the Wolves (8-2-1) beat the Lutz-based school.
Newsome, which reached the Class 5A state finals last year, has handed Steinbrenner three of the five losses the Warriors have suffered the last two years.
“It definitely gives us a lot of confidence because we were pretty much on them the whole game,” said senior forward Cici Gonzalez, Miranda’s sister. “It felt really good to get two early goals, so we were never really worried. It felt really good to finally beat them because they’ve pretty much been our rival since last year.”
Steinbrenner followed up the Newsome W with a 3-1 win against Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons and a pair of 1-0 victories against Bloomingdale. The Warriors had to beat the Bulls (7-3-1) twice on Dec. 17 to win the title.
Miranda said playing in close games is tough, but also gives the defensive core confidence it can hold onto such advantages.
“It’s really nerve-racking knowing you have such a small lead or are tied,” Miranda said. “You really have to just keep your composure, get the ball down, play to feet and try your best to get it up to your offense so they can score.”
Steinbrenner was without the services of starting goalkeeper Stephanie Hirsch, forcing Eleanor Wilson into action. The junior had only played in one high school game before the event, but the relative unknown made a big impact.
“She really stepped up big time,” Cici said. “She made some big saves in all our games and it’s really nice to know she’s there in case we need her. She was our MVP in my opinion.”
Cici is also excited about how the offense worked in the four victories and what that could mean as the Warriors try to repeat as 4A state champions.
“I think this tournament was probably the best we’ve played this whole year, and I feel like finally everything is coming together,” Cici said. “At first it was a little bit off. Nothing was really connecting like it used to and it felt good to get everyone playing together again. We just looked so much better than we did at the beginning of this season.”
Miranda has similar feelings about the backline: “Everyone is covering for each other and we’re more comfortable than we were at the beginning of the year.”
The Gonzalez sisters both said winning four games in two days will help the squad when the Class 4A-District 8 tournament begins Jan. 17 at Freedom.
“We needed some big wins to boost our confidence, especially going into districts,” Cici said. “Last year we were able to just walk through districts, and this year it’s definitely going to be harder to get that trophy.”
Steinbrenner hosts district rival Chamberlain on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m.