By Jeff Odom
Land O’ Lakes girls soccer coach Vicky King said her team needed a push to get by cross-town and district rival Sunlake Dec. 11.
The two squads had played to a draw in their previous three meetings, and for 40 minutes it looked as if that streak would continue. But the Gators (12-4-2) capitalized on two quick scoring opportunities to open the second half for a decisive 2-0 victory against the Seahawks (7-6-4).
The win clinched the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A-District 7 tournament for Land O’ Lakes, where it will look to defend the league championship.
“We just started slow,” King said. “It’s strange. I thought we would have had more energy to start with. … We know they wanted to beat us really bad, but we want to keep them from beating us too.”
The game had to be pushed back a day because of thunderstorms that made playing conditions unsafe. And although the weather was much nicer one day later, something else played a major factor all night — bugs.
Thousands of them swarmed the field causing distractions for players and coaches.
“I had them all over me,” said Gators freshman Savanna Ronk. “It was pretty distracting, but it started to calm down later. That’s probably part of why we played better in the second half.”
Both teams struggled to create scoring chances in the first half, but Sunlake did its best to break the stalemate.
Sarah Sprague, who left midway through the second half with an apparent concussion, gave her team its best chance with a shot in the 10th minute, but the ball sailed over the crossbar.
Just 90 seconds into the second half, Land O’ Lakes made its opponent pay as Raquel Villareal tipped in a shot from Catherine Gray off senior goalkeeper Maya Kamat’s hands to give her team a 1-0 lead.
The junior said she didn’t know how the ball managed to go in.
“I have no idea how I scored,” Villareal said. “It went in pretty slowly, and I wanted it to go in for the goal, but I didn’t think it would go in.”
The Gators weren’t finished.
Five minutes later, Kameryn Kailimai redirected a 40-yard free kick by Maci Galan with her left foot into the back of the net to secure the 2-0 win.
“I guess we were just tired (in the first half) and we needed a little pep talk to get us going,” Kailimai said. “We had to get in the game because they’re our rival. It’s great and now we’re first in the district.”
Seahawks coach Jami Finan said despite securing the No. 2 seed, she was not pleased with her squad’s performance after the first half. Sunlake failed to convert three shots, including one by Saint Leo University commit Cassidy Place, with less than two minutes to go in the opening 40 minutes.
“I don’t know what happened to be perfectly honest,” Finan said. “The girls were in it the first half, and we decided to make some changes, and it just didn’t work for us. … I hate ties, and I didn’t want to tie them. I mean, 0-0 would have probably been a better outcome for our situation, but whatever. We’ll see them again.”
The 3A-7 tournament is at Wesley Chapel Jan 15 to 18, with the final Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. The two Central Pasco County squads would play for the district title if both win their semifinals contest on Jan. 16.
The Seahawks hosted Anclote Dec. 17, but results were not available at press time. Sunlake plays at Mitchell Jan. 8 before closing the regular season by hosting Weeki Wachee Jan. 9. Land O’ Lakes hosts Ridgewood Dec. 20. All games start at 7:30 p.m.
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