It’s a season they’ll surely never forget.
Under the umbrella and storied history of the FC Tampa Rangers soccer organization, the Lutz U13 Lady Rangers’ 2018-2019 campaign will go down as one of the more impressive in memory.
The squad went 34-6-5 overall this season — including an 18-3-2 run since the beginning 2019.
Ranked as one of the state’s top teams and earning a top seed in the Florida State Cup, the year culminated with the girls program’s first-ever appearance in the U.S. Youth Soccer Regional Championships in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Lady Rangers were one of just 16 U13 girls teams from the Southern U.S. Youth Soccer State Association to qualify for the tournament, and just one of two from Florida — the other being the Wellington Wave. The tournament also included squads from Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina.
They held their own, going 3-1 and reaching the region semifinals.
The regional berth marked a longtime coming for a Lady Rangers team that has kept much of the same corps for more than five years, dating back to U8.
In that way, they’re unlike many of the larger competitive soccer clubs, which pools hundreds of players all throughout Tampa Bay and frequently experiences roster turnover.
When Lady Rangers head coach Chris Cole meets parents inquiring about the soccer club, he poses this question: “Are you looking for your daughter to join a group of players, or, are you looking to join a team?”
With many of the dozen or so girls from the same Lutz community, and nearby Land O’ Lakes and Carrollwood, the squad’s philosophy and longevity has cultivated a tight-knit, family like atmosphere that extends well beyond the practice fields at Oscar Cooler Sports Complex.
“We’re closer than most teams I feel like, instead of just a bunch random girls coming together to play soccer,” said midfielder/defenseman Kaitlin Vinson, a team co-captain.
“I think one of the biggest strengths is how close we are, and we know almost everything about each other, both personally and soccer-wise. … That helps us to build off each other, and just play soccer better, and it’s part of the reason why I think we’re good.”
Fellow Lady Rangers co-captain Chloe Carson agrees.
“Our whole team has a bond,” said Carson, a center midfielder who’s been on the Lady Rangers since its inception. “Even with the new girls, they fit in right away.”
It’s a bond that’s yielded better on-field chemistry over the years for a team now comprised mostly of rising eighth graders.
Carson explained: “We know each other’s skills, each other’s habits, so we know what to do ahead of time, and it helps us work together and keeps our emotions down, which really helps the play of the game. Some teams, you’ll see girls arguing or yelling at each other.”
Cole, a former USF men’s soccer player in the 1990s and former member of the U.S. Armed Forces men’s soccer team, added this of the club team’s congenial dynamic: “As anything with sports and teams that have been together for a while, you tend to know each other’s tendencies and what you do, but that camaraderie off the field really is important. …I think that really shows on the field as far as just feeling comfortable with each other.”
The coach also noted the team’s unselfish nature.
“With these girls teams, there’s not too much drama,” Cole said. “We certainly don’t have that ‘me, me, me’ mentality. We don’t emphasize one player, ‘Get it to this player and let her do everything.’ Really, a lot of playing time is evenly distributed.”
On quick glance, the Lady Rangers are a smaller, more undersized group compared to other programs in their age division.
It’s become something of a motivating factor for Rangers players against larger, more physical opponents.
Vinson put it like this: “When other teams see us, we don’t look that good because most of our players are smaller, and it just gives us one more reason to want to win, because it’s just kind of proving them wrong.”
But, whatever the Lady Rangers may lack in stature, they’ve made up for with skill, speed and cohesion.
The approach served them well — evident in their 185-33 goal differential through the regular season and postseason combined.
“Because of the (lack of) size,” Cole said, “I really emphasized possession with the ball, a lot of touches, and I think that that really has been our forte early, instead of playing kick ball, which a lot of teams do. The quicker we can get rid of the ball, the better for us. We don’t want to be on the ball too long and get knocked off the ball with our size. …That’s the kind of soccer we like to play here.”
Following their banner season, the team’s success appears likely to continue, as much of the roster is expected to join together in U14. It’s also where new, exciting opportunities lie ahead.
The Lady Rangers will be partnering with the IMG Academy’s soccer development academy in Bradenton. IMG officials reached out to the Lutz-based club after seeing them play in the Florida State Cup.
The partnership means practicing multiple times per week at IMG’s world-class training facility and an uptick in out-of-state competition, as the team will regularly match up against elite programs throughout the southeastern United States.
“Every year we look for challenges,” Cole said of the IMG development academy initiative. “It’s a huge opportunity for these girls to consistently play tough teams.”
As part of the IMG development academy, the Lady Rangers are expected to have a larger coaching staff and a handful of new players added to the roster.
Those fresh faces will be a net positive for the club going forward, Vinson said.
“I think it’ll be good for us because we’ve always heard the same things from our coaches because we’ve had the same coaches, and so I think with different coaches and different players we’ll have different perspectives that’ll help us be better,” she said.
2018-2019 Lutz U13 Lady Rangers roster
Head Coach: Chris Cole
- Chloe Carson (co-captain)
- Skylar Cole
- Jolie Farmer
- Sarah Frazer
- Jordan Fulop
- Alexa Gilland
- Sienna Gillespie
- Maddie Green
- Allison Souers
- Melody Taylor
- Miranda Valdes
- Lola Vargas
- Kaitlin Vinson (co-captain)
Published July 03, 2019