By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch girls soccer team locked up the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A-District 8 tournament with a 1-0 win over Gaither at home Dec. 7.
The victory ended a difficult week for the Bulls (11-1, 4-0), which included a 2-0 loss to Mitchell Dec. 3 and a 1-0 win at cross-town rival Wesley Chapel Dec. 6.
“We started the season off really well, but the last week has been a little rocky,” said senior midfielder Anne Cypriano. “We were a little worried if we were going to be able to get it, but I’m so happy we were able to pull through.”
Wiregrass Ranch coach Eddy Costa said the tough week was brought on by a combination of things, biggest among them injuries.
The Bulls have four starters playing through substantial injuries, including Cypriano (back) and defender Lauren Gorden (leg), while forward A.J. Blount (12 goals) has missed the last three games with a sprained knee.
Senior forward Berlin Waters said they tried not to focus on the fact that a victory would clinch the top district seed.
“We needed to just play our game and not get distracted,” Waters said. “After the loss and the 1-0 win last night we knew we had to really step it up because it’s Gaither. We knew we had to pick it up, try our hardest and not come home with a loss.”
Neither the Bulls nor the Cowboys (3-5-1, 2-2) gained significant advantage in possession or scoring attempts in the first half.
Then Waters broke through in the 52nd minute.
Lauren Luzzi fired a free kick from 25 yards out and hit a sprinting Waters for her 12th goal of the season.
“I know she has a good foot and we’ve been practicing free kicks, so was I thinking it would be a really good chance to score,” Waters said. “When she kicked it, I could see it coming; I judged where it was going, and it was just the perfect ball for me to get my head on it.”
The Bulls defense disrupted several last ditch efforts by the Cowboys to score.
“There was a lot of nervousness coming out with the girls saying, ‘We’ve got to win, we’ve got to win,’” Costa said. “My pep talk was let’s stay focused, stay calm and try to control the game by holding the ball. In the end, 1-0 is just as good as 10-0.”
Costa said the focus in recent practices has been defensive structure, not attacking.
“We’ve had girls like Vanessa (Jordan), Taylor (Muzik) and Berlin, who have scored a lot of goals early, and we’ve been a little bit in a slump,” Costa said. He added, “The philosophy tonight was if we score six but allow seven it doesn’t matter.”
Wiregrass Ranch started the week averaging six goals while allowing 0.4. The closer-than-usual nature of the last three games forced the defense to step up its play, but senior goalkeeper Dayton Wetherby said they have just as much confidence playing tight contests.
“If we go over defensive structure and focus on that during the game, then these types of games shouldn’t be that much pressure,” said Wetherby, who had five saves. “Just knowing that our shape should be able to help control that pressure makes it easier.”
Wiregrass Ranch traveled to Hudson Dec. 10, but results were not available by press time. The Bulls play at Pasco Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. and at home against 4A-8 rival Sickles Dec. 14 at 8 p.m.