By Kyle LoJacono
The Land O’ Lakes boys soccer team’s first trip to the state finals since 1999 didn’t have the storybook ending its players wanted.
The Gators (23-4-2) lost in the Class 3A championship 3-1 to Plantation American Heritage at the University of South Florida on Feb. 18, forcing them to wait another year for the program’s first state title.
Land O’ Lakes had momentum entering halftime with the score 1-1, but a pair of quick strikes by the Patriots (26-0-3) out of the locker room sealed the win. American Heritage scored 39 seconds into the second half and found the back of the net in the 46th minute.
“We came out a little flat coming out of halftime,” said 15-year Gators coach Mark Pearson. “They made some good combination plays in the middle of the field and unfortunately we didn’t defend very well, and not just individually but as a unit.”
Land O’ Lakes had its share of opportunities in the second half, including five free kicks inside or near the 18-yard box and a cross from Nathan Dalton headed just wide left by Sean Young.
“We threw as much as we could going forward, and were able to hold them to three and not give anything else up in the counterattack,” Pearson said. “We just didn’t finish our opportunities. … What we did do well their goalkeeper covered up well.”
The Gators’ goal came in the 10th minute less than 2 minutes after American Heritage opened up the scoring. Land O’ Lakes’ Josh Davis sent a long cross from right to left, which Miguel Laliberte sent back toward the middle for Adam Weinstock to head home.
The Gators were unable to find the back of the net again despite outshooting the Patriots 20-10.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet that we made it all the way here and lost,” said Dalton, a senior midfielder/forward. “A lot of the kids were just lying on the ground, but we just told everybody to keep their heads up because we made it this far.”
Land O’ Lakes’ finals run comes after losing 10 seniors from a year ago. The current Gators were unable to win the program’s eighth straight district championship, but claimed their first regional title since 2000.
“It’s been a great season for us,” Pearson said. He then added, “We’ll have a good group coming back. We’re going to miss the guys who are leaving.”
Land O’ Lakes loses another 10 seniors this year.
“Most of the seniors here have been around for four years, and they’ve done a tremendous job for us,” Pearson said. “They’ve represented the program well, and not just on the field but in the classroom too. We have a lot of AP and IB kids that really put themselves through academically a lot of rigor. They’re great young men.”
Among the graduating are the Gators’ top-five points recorders: Dalton, Davis, Laliberte, Andy Garcia and Jake Frahm.
“I can’t even explain in words how bad this hurts,” said Frahm, a midfielder. “Senior year, all you want to do is hold that ring up and have everyone be jealous looking at you. … We haven’t been past the quarterfinals of regionals since our freshman year when we won there. We wanted to build off each other and we did that this year. We played with each other getting to this game. I think we fell apart a little in this game, but we still played with heart; still gave it our all and came up short.”
Frahm said the team’s heart is what he will always remember about this year’s team.
“That first game against Berkley (Prep) we lost 4-1, and that was the start of our season,” Frahm said. “We had to start building off each other and came close as a family at school and also on the pitch. That heart brought us together to this game.”
Dalton added, “We never gave up. Even in the last couple seconds when there was 30 seconds left everyone was still trying.”
Karen Coss says
It was a good game, and a great season. I’m SO proud of these boys and their coaches!!!