When a high school team is undefeated after winning games by scores such as 8-0, 7-0, 9-1 and 6-1, you might think they have a very good baseball program with talented athletes on offense and defense.
And that assumption would be correct. Except for one thing: Those aren’t baseball scores. They’re soccer scores.
The girls soccer team at Land O’ Lakes High School isn’t just beating their opponents on their way to an 11-0 record, they’re burying them with 65 goals in 11 games, versus just eight goals scored against them. Only two games have been close (each decided by one goal), and they rule Class 3A-District 8 with a 10-0 record.
Land O’ Lakes has a strong history — they’ve won their district the past two seasons — and a very bright future this year. But don’t tell that to Coach Vicky King. She doesn’t let her players rest on their laurels or look past opponents toward the end of the season. They focus only on the practice ahead of them, the next opponent and playing good soccer every time they step onto the pitch.
“We don’t even talk about our wins and losses. No one has talked about our record at all,” King said with a decisive tone. “We don’t take anything for granted. We have to earn every goal. Nothing will be given to us.”
In fact, King said she doesn’t even remember her team’s record last year, even though they won the district title. Her time isn’t spent on the past, but getting the Gators ready for their next opponent.
Now in her 27th year coaching soccer at Land O’ Lakes, King has guided dozens of different teams. She noted that this squad is very talented, and while they do have a standout scorer — sophomore Victoria Cannata leads the team with 12 goals — the Gators have 16 players who have scored at least one goal so far this season. That diversity in offense makes them difficult to defend, and gives the team a number of options they can use to attack their opponent.
“You can’t shut us down by shutting down one person,” King said. “We have a lot of depth. We’ve created a lot of scoring opportunities that we haven’t created the past two years.”
Senior Brooke Silvest has played soccer all throughout high school, and notices something special about this year’s team. Even though they’re very young and skilled, it’s been improved team chemistry that has made a difference.
“We all work really well together,” she said. “We all get along much better than we ever have in the past. That helps a lot.”
Players aren’t selfish with the ball, often choosing to earn an assist rather than take the shot themselves. Talented underclassmen have chemistry with the more experienced players, and as a result, Silvest believes this is the school’s best girls soccer team since she’s been a member.
Silvest and the team have also bought into King’s philosophy, making no assumptions before a game and maintaining focus throughout their matches, regardless of the score. She admits that some of the earlier games were closer than they should have been because they weren’t playing their best (and possibly looking ahead on the schedule), but their focus is now always on the task in front of them.
The team goes into each match with the simple goal of working hard, rather than considering opponents’ records or their own past performances, Silvest said.
And while she doesn’t want to deviate from that strategy, Silvest has a lot of optimism about the team’s potential, and believes they have a chance to eclipse last year’s accomplishments.
“Last year we got knocked out in regional semis, and I think we can go to state this year,” Silvest said. “We’re a much better team, and I think we can beat the team that knocked us out.”
The Gators still have a half-dozen district games remaining on the schedule, including a rematch against Sunlake, whose only loss was a 2-1 defeat to Land O’ Lakes last month. But whatever they accomplish this year, it will be with a commitment to growing as a team and getting better with each game.
“We should improve,” King said. “We don’t want to peak too early. We want to improve as the season goes on.”
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