Believe it or not, the Seahawks have never won a district championship.
That’s quite remarkable because the girls soccer team just made program history with its first state tournament appearance.
“I have five district runner-up trophies,” said longtime coach Jami Finan, who just finished her 12th season at the helm. “But this year, we got redemption.”
In program history, the team tends to lose out to nearby rival Land O’ Lakes. The Gators have taken the title, over Sunlake, five times.
This year’s redemption for the Seahawks (13-3-1), however, was historic because in the past, they’ve made the region tournament, but always bowed out in the quarterfinals — the first round.
“We’ve had a lot of great players come through the program,” Finan said, “but this season they played very well together and when they got the tactics down of playing together, that got them through to the next round.”
Despite a 2-1 loss to the Gators (15-6-3) in the district final match on Jan. 31 — but a 4-4 regular season tie on Dec. 13 — Sunlake finally made it out of the first round, thanks to a resounding 4-1 over Fort Myers Riverdale on Feb. 7.
This led to a home match hosting Sickles on Feb. 10, with the Seahawks winning 3-2 in dramatic, penalty-kick fashion.
“I think that, 100%, the student body, family members and our followers made it a totally different atmosphere (against Sickles),” Finan said. “Girls soccer has been good, but having some regional games on campus really let people see how next level we can be. … Because of (those games), the players became stars on campus or even when they were out and having dinner and people would congratulate them.
“Maybe, at a regular season game, we’d have about 20 (people) in the stands,” Finan added, “but with the regional games, there were so many more kids than I had ever seen at a soccer game.”
That atmosphere was also a factor in the region final — the rematch vs. Land O’ Lakes.
Finan knew she and her players would have to attack the game differently, especially against coaching legend Vicky King.
“We switched it up against Land O’ Lakes and moved people around (at positions and matchups) and just really capitalized on that,” Finan said. “We outplayed and out coached them.”
Not only did Sunlake beat Land O’ Lakes for the first time in five years, the Seahawks beat them by halftime, 3-0, which was the final score.
“That’s unheard of against them,” Finan admitted.
The win — fueled by two goals from junior Taylor Campbell, who tied the team record for most goals (26) and assists (15) in a season — propelled the Seahawks to their first state tournament appearance.
However, Sunlake would run into a gauntlet of a team in Miami Lourdes Academy, which is ranked eighth in the nation and sixth in Florida. Despite it being just 2-0 at halftime, a couple of quick goals — including one in which the referees didn’t check to see if goalkeeper Samantha Barnes was ready before kickoff — took the wind out of the players sails.
It was a tough game, but Sunlake did manage a goal, coming from sophomore Adia Symmonds, and her goal was the first scored against Lourdes in 11 games.
“It was a very stressful situation, not just because of the game and the opponent, but we didn’t know how we were getting there until the last minute,” Finan said. “But the whole school came to clap us out to the bus, and once on there, we were able to enjoy the trip down and the experience of being in the state tournament.
“Of course, we wanted it to go differently on the field, but it was very rewarding to see our team go to states.”
Now, having made history, Finan, and her team, have no plans on taking a step back. The Seahawks lose just three starting seniors, but return Campbell, Barnes (109 saves), Symmonds (16 goals) and Inna Neves (10 goals).
Besides, they have unfinished business.
“We have a very young team, so we’re locked and loaded for next year,” Finan said. “Now, it’s time to finally get that district title (laughs).”
Published March 01, 2023