The Land O’Lakes High School Gators girls soccer team in February advanced to the state tournament by winning the Class 6A-Region 3 tournament, and capping a season noted with balanced play and nail-biting wins.
“We were off to a rocky start — close to .500 the whole season,” said longtime coach Vicky King, who just finished up her 35th season at the Gators’ helm. “But after playing Sunlake in December, we played only playoff teams after that. We play a tough schedule to prepare for districts and we peaked at the right time.”
The Gators extended its season by winning the 6A-9 district title — its third-straight — with a shootout win over nearby rival Sunlake, on Feb. 1, with Land O’ Lakes winning 5-4 on penalty kicks. Then, in the first round of the regional tournament, the Gators narrowly beat Fort Myers Riverdale, 1-0, thanks to a late goal by sophomore Eve Garrett, who was one of three players that led the team with 11 goals.
“We had a lot of confidence in each other,” King said. “We became a very balanced team and didn’t depend on one individual.”
And while Garrett would add a goal in the Gators’ second-round win over Wiregrass Ranch, both the other two leading scorers — senior Teresa Rodriguez and junior Jordyn Keene — added goals.
Keene and Rodriguez would both score again in the Gators 4-0 win over Wharton that propelled the team to its third-straight final four appearance. However, the team’s season came to an end with a 2-1 loss to Miami Lourdes Academy on Feb. 18. Still, King was proud of how her team performed in what was predicted to be a rebuilding season.
“We were a highly inexperienced team coming in after losing seven starters, but they earned everything they got this season and really wanted to win, and did almost every step of the way,” King said.
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