By Kyle LoJacono
A 16-4-2 record, a district championship and a second-round playoff appearance.
It would be one of the most memorable seasons for most girls soccer programs.
Steinbrenner is not most girls soccer programs.
The Warriors (2-3) won the 2011 Class 4A state title in the program’s second season and graduated only three players from that championship squad. Losing 2-0 at Lakeland George Jenkins in the regional semifinals felt like a disappointment.
“We didn’t go as far as we wanted to last year,” said senior forward Alexis Bredeau, a University of North Florida commit. “I think it’s time again to prove ourselves. We’re a better team than what happened.”
Along with fuel to regain the mountain top is a new voice preaching structure, purpose and discipline.
Former Durant and University of Tampa (UT) defender Angela Gillisse was named the fourth-year program’s third coach in July, replacing Robert Woodard, who resigned after one year at the helm.
“I wanted them to know I’m the coach, and we’re playing by my rules,” said Gillisse, who has coached for 14 years. “My rules will always be for the betterment of the team. I’m looking out for their best interests, but we have to have structure if we want to go far in the playoffs.”
Many returning players said the regimented style has been a plus.
“It’s much more organized, and everything is much more set,” said senior midfielder Marley Opila, a Jacksonville University commit. “We don’t have to worry about if everything is set up. It’s going to benefit us a lot to just practice and play. … She came in and laid down all the rules. She didn’t second guess herself. That really set the tone.”
That’s not to say Gillisse has been a drill sergeant.
“I want them to have fun, and the more they enjoy the game, the more they’re going to want to play,” Gillisse said. “I talked with them about the disappointments, and we said we’re moving on to this year. They want to move on, and they have a lot of goals.”
Gillisse has also worked on team building.
“She’s taking time out of her day to come and see us at our lunch and stuff like that to talk with us,” Bredeau said. “We’re doing meals this year before games, which we haven’t really done in the past. We’re also taking bus rides together. … We need that team bonding.”
Junior defender and UT commit Miranda Gonzalez added, “Last year we were like a group of this and a group of that. It’s a lot better than last year.”
Junior midfielder Dani Eule said the entire attitude has changed.
“There’s so much excitement and intensity to get into the season,” Eule said. “We’re so ready and prepared. We’re looking at the road to success.”
The Warriors were mostly spared from graduation numberswise, losing three seniors, but two departures leave a huge production hole.
Gone are leading scorers Cici Gonzalez (16 goals, four assists*), Miranda’s sister, and Taylor Valley (13 goals, six assists), who signed with UT and Armstrong Atlantic State University, respectively. The duo accounted for 53 percent of the squad’s tallies last season.
Among those Gillisse expects to fill in up top are Bredeau (eight goals, six assists) and Jessica Taylor (six goals, two assists), who started most of last year as a freshman.
“I was really nervous,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know what the competition would be like, but I knew it would be aggressive. I just had to do my best and play my hardest to prove I earned that spot.”
Bredeau said the squad has gotten several new players, such as freshmen Danielle Darius and Kirsten Russell, who will add to the offense.
“Cici and Taylor were amazing athletes and team leaders,” Bredeau said. “They had great personalities on and off the field. It’s hard to replace players like that, but I think we’re going to do even better this year.”
Gillisse said midfielders like Opila (one goal, three assists) and Eule (two goals, one assist) will be as key in creating offense.
“It’s a good balance in the middle,” Gillisse said. “Dani is physically really strong. Marley is quick. They balance each other out really well in the center of the field, and they like to use the corner flags, so they create runs and offensive opportunities.”
Taylor added, “Productionwise, it’s a lot about our mids controlling the whole game. … They win all the loose balls and the 50/50 balls.”
And if the offense takes a few weeks to get settled, the defense is ready to pick up any slack with Miranda and Co. on the backline.
“We never even worry about Miranda; we don’t have too,” Opila said. “It’s such a relief to have someone you can always 100 percent rely on. We don’t have to worry about that half of the field.”
Gillisse said the talent is there to make a run at a state crown as long as the effort remains.
“The quote for this team is, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’” Gillisse said. “They want to win a state championship, so that’s going to be our goal. They have the talent, the desire and the heart to win. It’s theirs to lose right now. They just have to work hard every game.”
Steinbrenner hosts the Class 4A-District 8 tournament Jan. 15 to 18, with the final Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.
The Warriors host 4A-8 rival Freedom Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.
*All stats from last season
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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