They believed in themselves.
That’s all the Cypress Creek girls soccer players — and their coach, Jessica Herzek — had to do, including drawing inspiration from the Apple TV+ hit show, Ted Lasso.
In the show, Ted Lasso, played ever-optimistically by Jason Sudeikis, is an American football coach hired to coach an English Premier League soccer team. Lasso will constantly tell his players, who don’t have faith in him since he’s never coached soccer, homespun anecdotes and inspirational quotes, as he points to a small, yellow-and-blue sign he has hung in the locker room
The sign just says, ‘Believe.’
That’s all Lasso, and also Herzek, wants the players to do, to believe in themselves and each other.
“When I watched that show,” Herzek excitedly recalls, “I was like, ‘He coaches like I do!’ … So yeah, it’s about (we) ‘Believe,’ so let’s go get it. We’re doing it the way that we believe in ourselves, so with a big game, I’m sending (my players) texts and telling them what to expect and getting mentally prepared for that game, and we come out better for it.
“The biggest thing I found in girls’ sports is you have to have unity — there can’t be bad attitudes,” she added. “They can’t be mad at each other or have animosity, which can cause discontinuity as a mental unit. This year, I focused a lot on the mental aspect of the game because we needed to focus as being one unit. That can be hard in high school.
“But it paid off.”
Channeling her inner Ted Lasso certainly paid off, as Herzek led the Coyotes (15-6) to becoming the high school’s first varsity team to advance to a state tournament since the school opened in 2017 in Wesley Chapel.
“It’s pretty awesome — it’s a really good feeling,” Herzek said. “Girls’ sports don’t get a lot of accolades or a lot of attention, and this girls soccer team is quite amazing. We knew it was a big deal, and we were very excited about it.
“It’s nice for them, for the players, to feel as though they’ve accomplished something and deserve the accolade that they worked very hard for.”
Unfortunately, the Class 5A state final four appearance most definitely didn’t go as the Coyotes would have liked, as they ran into one of the best teams out there: perennial state powerhouse, Plantation American Heritage.
Cypress Creek lost 6-0 on Feb. 17.
“From Day One, I told them we were a final four team,” Herzek said. “I told them they have the abilities of a final-four team, but they have to work for it. When they did, they finally believed they were a final-four team.
“But they never gave up (in the state semifinal). That’s one of the best teams in the nation, and they never gave up.”
The Coyotes have had a strong run in the postseason the past four seasons.
Starting in 2020, they broke through for their first regional tournament appearance, but lost to Englewood Lemon Bay in the first round. In 2021, Lemon Bay ended the Coyotes’ season again, but this time the loss came in the region finals. In 2022, after jumping up to Class 5A, Merritt Island knocked out the Coyotes in the first round.
Herzek began coaching the team three years ago. However, she’s been coaching some of the players, including three senior starters, since seventh grade. They are: goalie Alex Capocy (114 saves), Abby Pittman (defensive stalwart) and Brooke Evans (five goals, five assists).
The Coyotes leading scorers were junior Allison Souers (30 goals), junior Ashley Olds (22 goals) and Avery Blevins (12 goals). All three had a team-high 10 assists.
As Herzek looks ahead, she “believes” the team will build on what’s become its yearly success.
“It was amazing going to states and really fun to experience it with the girls,” Herzek said. “I loved seeing how excited they were, especially because they really accomplished something. … What we did was historical, but like Ted Lasso, I try to also instill in them to not take it so seriously. If we can’t have fun in soccer, then why are we even doing it?
“That’s the neatest part about coaching.”
Published March 01, 2023