By Kyle LoJacono
Alexis Bredeau and Marley Opila have combined for countless goals during their time together on the Steinbrenner girls soccer team.
It was only fitting for the Warriors to do it one final time to help lead the Hillsborough County all-stars over Pinellas 4-2 March 8 in the 20th annual Senior Soccer Challenge at Countryside High.
Or at least, one last time in high school.
The University of North Florida (UNF) signees put Hillsborough on the board in the fifth minute on a scoring play they’ve nearly perfected. Opila took a corner kick from the right side, which Bredeau headed home.
“We’re so comfortable playing together,” said Opila, a central midfielder. “We’ve played together for about 10 years now, and now we’re going to UNF together. It’s a great way for us to end our high school career and go off to college.”
Bredeau, who was named The Laker/Lutz News Girls Soccer Player of the Year early in the week, said she didn’t recognize that the challenge was her final high school game until Steinbrenner teammate Stephanie Hirsch said so once it was over.
“I’ve been excited for this game all week, and I didn’t even think about it being my last high school game,” said Bredeau, a forward. “It’s sad that it’s over, but I’m really excited for the next four years.”
Bredeau, who’s 34 goals this year was a season record for Steinbrenner, added another tally with a little more than 13 minutes left in the contest to put Hillsborough ahead 3-1. Opila put in her squad’s fourth tally about a minute later by firing in a loose ball in front of the Pinellas net.
Opila said it was a “confidence boost” posting a goal and an assist in the challenge.
“I’ve grown up watching this game, and I’ve had a lot of former teammates play in it, so it’s so exciting to actually get to play in it myself,” said Opila, who had 15 assists and three tallies this year. “I think I’ll always remember it.”
Gaither midfielder Jessica Lawless, who was added to the team after Wharton’s Leah Chisolm pulled out of the contest because she was out of town, scored Hillsborough’s second goal three minutes after halftime by cleaning up a rebound shot from Opila.
Wharton’s Denis Vukorep, who coached Hillsborough with Plant’s Pam Smith, said they made a push in the second half of the final period, which resulted in two goals.
“We knew that our strength was our midfield and forwards,” Vukorep said, who’s been coaching in the challenge the last four years. “We knew that we were kind of piecing things together defensively. We subbed in Alexis, Marley, Ashni (Deschenes) and all those other girls for the final 20 minutes. We knew these were our top players, and these are the girls who are going to win it, and they did.”
Hillsborough showed off its offensive prowess by posting four goals, but a defender made the play that likely propelled it to victory.
Tampa Catholic’s Sheila Ramos preserved a 2-1 Hillsborough lead midway through the second half by deflecting away a rebound in front of wide-open net.
“That was huge because Pinellas was pressing, and I think that kind of took the wind out of their sails, and then we came right down and scored,” Vukorep said. “Sheila’s save was one of those turning points. It deflated them and elevated us.”
The victory is the second straight for the Hillsborough girls, which are now 10-9-1 in the challenge.
The Hillsborough boys were unable to carry the momentum in the second game of the night, falling in a shootout. It’s the sixth straight victory for Pinellas (11-9) in the challenge.
Dunedin’s Jonathan Dos Santos put Pinellas ahead 1-0 in the 28th minute, but Strawberry Crest’s Mazeed Aro-Lambo answered just before halftime on a through ball from Berkley Prep’s Tyler Sacone.
In the second half, East Lake’s Mathias Ghiena, the Pinellas boys’ MVP, fired a rocket from 35 yards out that found the top left corner, but Aro-Lambo rose up again to tie the contest with nine minutes remaining.
Pinellas took the victory in a shootout 4-2.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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