By Eugenio Torrens
Michelle Clark just tried to remind her team that the old days of Wesley Chapel girls soccer are no more.
The Wildcats (9-12) made significant strides this season, earning their first playoff berth ever and a date at River Ridge in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals on Jan. 24.
But the Knights (17-4-1) used a 3-0 victory to squash Wesley Chapel’s playoff debut.
“I told them that tonight was an opportunity for 80 minutes to prove that we’re someone, a force to be reckoned with,” said Clark. “We’re not the Wesley Chapel that everybody thinks ‘Oh you’re going to come in and you’re going to mercy rule us every time.’ We’re not that team anymore.”
After the first half, not only were the Wildcats not mercy ruled, they were in it.
River Ridge scored the lone goal of the first period in the 11th minute, when Nicole Screnock tapped in a cross from Kendra Secrest.
Clark said she was content with keeping the game 1-0 at halftime and chalked up the goal to a mental error.
“When they first started warming up and they were watching the other team warm up, I could see the nervousness,” Clark said. “I was like ‘Hey, there’s no time for nervousness. Excitement? Yes, we’ll go for that. Aggressiveness? Yes, we’ll go for that. Nervousness? We gotta shake that off.’”
The Knights looked like the team with playoff experience in the second half, as Secrest tacked on two goals in the 57th and 61st minutes.
The Wildcats showed no quit and increased their shots on goal in the second half, including an agonizingly close corner kick from senior midfielder Tess Gemberling that flirted with the goal line but failed to go in despite a throng of feet stamping around it.
“We came back and we had opportunities where we should have put them in the back of the net,” Clark said. “We easily could have had the score 3-2 at the end of the game.”
While the result was far from what the Wildcats’ coach wanted, she knows the first playoff appearance in school history is a step in the right direction.
“I’m proud of where we got just being our first time here and everything,” said Gemberling, who missed her junior season with a torn ACL. “I have confidence that (returning players) can get to where they want to be if they play hard enough. I am happy with what we left, being my last year.”
Clark, who finished her second year, isn’t quite as satisfied.
“I’ve got so many dreams for this team here and for this school,” Clark said. “I mean, I know we can be better than what we were. We have the potential and we have the girls that have the ability. … So next year, I want to go further. I want more next year.”
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