By Jeff Odom
Land O’ Lakes boys soccer coach Mark Pearson had some harsh words for his players at halftime Dec. 19.
Though the Gators (8-2) led by two goals over Wesley Chapel at the break, he questioned their effort and told them to step it up, or changes would be made.
His team responded with five goals in the second half to cruise to a 7-0 win against the Wildcats (4-10), clinching the No. 2 seed in next month’s Class 3A-District 7 tournament.
“We were lackadaisical for the first 20 minutes of the game,” Pearson said. “We didn’t really settle down until about the 30-minute mark. We addressed a lot of things, and it was a different half in the second.”
Led by senior midfielder Sean Young’s hat trick, with goals coming in the 15th, 70th and 71st minutes, Land O’ Lakes fought through lingering smoke from a nearby fire and mental fatigue from the rigors of exam week to pull off the victory.
Young said he sees the team progressing as it moves closer to the district tournament where the Gators hope to get past their cross-town rival and undefeated Sunlake, which beat them 3-2 in November.
“We still take the game seriously if they’re big or not, and we are trying to progress ourselves so we are ready for Sunlake (Jan. 10),” Young said. “We just came out like this game didn’t matter, and then our heads got kicked in the game, and we got ready to play.”
Wesley Chapel gave Land O’ Lakes some early jitters as the Wildcats notched a couple early shots, including one deflected off the foot of keeper Mitchell McCuen in the ninth minute. The Gators quickly rebounded for a pair of goals by Young and Erik Theilbar, who fired one in from 35-yards out in the 29th minute.
“It’s a hard time this time of year with exam week,” Pearson said. “These guys are all in (International Baccalaureate) and (Advanced Placement) and they’re taking lots of exams, so I don’t want to get too overly conscious. Just want to make sure we’re playing better.”
Land O’ Lakes stayed in the driver’s seat throughout the final 40 minutes as the offensive attack tallied 13 shots on goal.
Patrick Lawson chipped in a shot from Young in the 44th minute for the 3-0 lead, and added another just five minutes later off a pass from Blake Quarishi.
Theilbar belted his second tally from close range in the 59th minute to round out the scoring.
The Wildcats’ best chance at a goal came in the 53rd minute after Kyle Custer was brought to the turf on a foul. Andy Huynh sent the ensuing free kick straight toward McCuen, but the senior held on to preserve the shutout.
“We’re still young,” Pearson said. “We graduated eight seniors last year, and we’re still gelling as a team. We’re getting there bit by bit, and I’m seeing that in all of the players and the team overall and our goal is to obviously get to that district final. … I like our chances if we keep working hard.”
The Gators played at Mitchell Dec. 21, but results were not available at press time. They travel to Sunlake Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. before playing at Gulf Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m.