PLANT CITY — The Plant City High girls soccer team’s seniors have set a new goal each year — get one step, one win better.
Last season, the Raiders captured a district title and reached the region finals.
This year, according to coach Caleb Roberts, that one step, one win would mean a state final four berth. Or even more.
“I think this season is a challenge they are really looking forward to,” Roberts said. “They’ve always had this mantra of let’s make it one game further than we did last year. Well, this year, one game further is the state semifinals, so that one game further mantra is, now let’s go for the whole thing.”
The bulk of the Raiders’ senior have played together since they were in elementary school at the club level, and they are hoping this last go-round as a team will end the season with a victory.
The Raiders are being led in scoring by a trio of seniors, Ericka Lott (16 goals), Diane Corzine (a captain with 14 goals) and Stephanie Galloway (nine goals), while getting excellent midfield play from co-captain Christina Gutierrez. The Raiders also boast one of the county’s best in goalkeeper Taylor Michael (also a captain), and the defense has stepped up in a big way.
With a number of returning upperclassmen, the Raiders are off to a 12-1 start and have allowed just three goals this season while scoring 77.
“Our senior class has taken it on themselves to lead this team,” Roberts said. “It’s truly been a lot of fun to watch these girls who have played together for so long come together one last year.”
“A lot of these girls have played together since they were 5, 6 years old.”
The Raiders are 7-0 in Class 4A-District 9 and wrap up district play tonight at East Bay.
Jesuit happy with recent tests
First-year Jesuit coach Eric Sims said one of the challenges he was most looking forward to in moving from the public-school ranks (after coaching for 12 seasons at Gaither and taking over at his alma mater this year) was being able to book a schedule that would challenge his Tigers team.
Sims didn’t take any shortcuts, opening the season in the Wharton Invitational against many of the county’s best teams before out-of-district matches against Cape Coral and matches to come against Immokalee and Brooksville Central. And maybe most dauntingly, last Saturday’s game against nationally-ranked Montverde Academy.
The Tigers came up short against Montverde, 4-1, but Sims said it told him a lot about where his team is at this point in the season, the things the players need to work on, and most importantly that they won’t hang their heads, battling back after falling behind by two goals. Sims said he was happy with the way his team played against the independent Montverde, which has players from all over the world.
“It was a good measuring stick of where we are as a team,” Sims said. “They are recruiting from not all over the nation, but all over the world, so it was good to play a team at a level like that.”
Senior Jacob Vila leads Jesuit with eight goals this season, sophomores Connar Lufkin and Trevor Brown have had an immediate impact on the Tigers’ midfield, and senior Michael Conlon has provided leadership to the defense.
The Tigers continue their challenging schedule Friday as they take on Bloomingdale in the Berkeley Invitational Tournament’s opening round.
Berkeley hosts local powers in tourney
Berkeley Prep (3-5-3) coach Tim Cooper said the Berkeley Prep Invitational Tournament has changed a lot over the years. Started 20 years ago in Miami, the tournament has gone through a number of name changes, a nearly 300-mile distance change and a number of host schools. Cooper said Berkeley Prep, hosting the tournament for the third straight season, is looking to test itself against the rest of the field, which includes seven programs outside the 2A classification of the Buccaneers.
“I think it’s really good for soccer in our area,” Cooper said. “For us, it keeps great soccer in our area this time of year and means we don’t have to travel to Miami or Orlando to find a chance to compete against this level of teams.”
The field has shrunk to eight teams, primarily because of the fact that a number of the schools invited were holding exams this week, Cooper said. However, the talent level is still high, and although the field consists of primarily local sides, the tournament is a good late-season test for teams looking to make a run in the state playoffs.
“Teams who do well in this tournament, those are the team you are going to see late in the postseason,” Cooper said. “I truly believe this is a springboard toward a state title, so I’ve always looked at this tournament as a snapshot to see how good teams are doing at this point in the season.”
The double-elimination tournament hosted at Berkeley begins Friday and concludes with the final at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Berkeley Invitational Tournament: Opening round, Friday — Newsome vs. Steinbrenner, 6 p.m. (Dickie Field); Hillsborough vs. Berkeley Prep, 6 p.m. (Newman Field); Auburndale vs. Palmetto, 8 p.m. (Dickie Field); Bloomingdale vs. Jesuit, 8 p.m. (Newman Field); semifinals, Saturday, 11 a.m.; final, Saturday, 6 p.m.