The Mitchell High girls soccer team is about to take an unknown trip into known territory.
As the Mustangs (26-0-1) gear up to play host to Ponte Vedra in the Class 3A state semifinals (Friday, 7 p.m.), they'll venture into realm new to everyone from their leading scorer to their experienced coach. In a historic season, Mitchell is in its first state semifinal.
"I was hoping to get there," said coach Karl Kukec, following the Mustangs' 6-0 drubbing of Brooksville Nature Coast that gave them their first region championship. "Now that we're hosting, I think we're at an advantage and it should be a very good game. We all know they're a very good team."
The Sharks (24-2-1) are just that: a very good team. But they're also very good year in, year out. Not only is Ponte Vedra the reigning 3A state champs and ranked fourth in the state, Ponte Vedra has won three of the last five state championships and outscored opponents in the state tournament 9-0.
Mitchell is ranked 16th in the state and the Mustangs have outscored postseason opponents 13-0. In addition, Mitchell has allowed only seven goals all season.
"Our players are all-around players," Kukec said. "They're very good at going to defense when they don't have the ball. They transition from offense to defense very well."
"Soccer is not just about offense and defense together," said leading scorer, sophomore Amanda Hayes, who has a county-high 33 goals. "Even when you're playing forward, you still have to play defense because you won't always have the ball. The game turns quickly and you have to move quickly with it."
Coming into the season, Mitchell was already a solid team — one that allowed only 11 goals before losing in the region semifinals to rival River Ridge — that returned Hayes off an impressive freshman year (21 goals) and Danielle Gottwik, who is already committed to Connecticut as a junior. But then the Mustangs picked up a transfer in Gaither junior Taylor Meek, who has complemented Hayes as a scoring duo.
"It's important that we all work together and don't yell or criticize each other," said Meek, who has 30 goals, including a hat trick Tuesday. "We're not always arguing, but helping each other out. But it helps that we're all club players and we're always working and training to, either here or somewhere, to be better."
"(Meek) is doing great and she's giving us a great lift to the team," Hayes added. "It's been great for us."
Throughout Tuesday night's victory, there wasn't a doubt that Mitchell wouldn't finally win a region final match. The Mustangs had been there twice before, losing both times by a goal, including once in overtime. Third time was the charm.
"At the start of every season, we say, we think about winning the state championship," said Kukec, who started the girls program when Mitchell opened in 2000. "That's our goal. We have fallen short in the past years, but we've had some runs. We just have to stay focused."
Mitchell's unknown road comes on the 10th anniversary of the only girls soccer state title in Pasco County history when the 2003 Land O' Lakes Gators won the 2A state title 1-0 over Riviera Beach Suncoast.
Now, it's the Mustangs' chance.
"After every practice, we've been, 'We're going to go to states. We're going to win states this year,' " junior Balea Schumacher said. "So far, we haven't proved ourselves wrong. I feel like the monkey is never off our backs, but as we positively critique each other and be there for each other, that has taken us further than before and keep taking us farther."