LAKEWOOD RANCH — Age is only a number for Lakewood Ranch High freshman forward Sophia Falco.
Thrust into a starting role in her first season with the Lady Mustangs, Falco has adjusted to the pressure that comes with playing one of the sport’s most critical positions.
Sure, she gets nervous from time to time, but more often than not, Falco has thrived.
Flanked on the other side by her older sister, Talia, and a trio of veteran defenders backing her up, the younger Falco has developed faster than perhaps even her coach could have imagined at the start of the season.
“A freshman coming in, and to be able to withstand all the pressure she has been put under, has been phenomenal,” Lakewood coach Guy Virgilio says. “She can’t seem to accept the idea that she is a freshman. She has so much energy and never stops. I try to get freshmen to see how far they can go, and she showed she could take the pressure.”
With her cheeks flushed pink from the cold, Falco zipped up and down the field while fending off the pressure Braden River High veteran defender Kendall McNab dealt her.
Falco scored seven minutes into the match, and again in the 76th minute, to propel Lakewood to a 3-0 victory against Braden River in the Class 4A-District 11 championship Jan. 17. Both goals came off assists from her older sister. Sophomore Julia Ortiz scored the other goal for the Lady Mustangs eight minutes into the second half.
“In the beginning, I’m nervous, but once you start playing you don’t really notice anything else but soccer and doing what we know how to do,” Falco says. “These people are all so welcoming, and then, when we put our hard work together, it’s just like so much excitement. We just love winning, I guess. It’s a good feeling.”
With the win, the Lady Mustangs captured their fifth consecutive district title and 11th in 14 years — all under Virgilio’s watchful eye.
Led by veteran goalkeeper Alex Latham, defenders Lindsay Martinez and Juliana Guida and forward Delaney Riggins, Lakewood notched its 20th victory of the season — a first for the program.
“Winning another district four years in a row — the feeling never gets old,” Martinez says. “I love doing it for the school and knowing that you see the plaque every day when you walk by it in school. It’s the best feeling knowing that you did something for Lakewood Ranch High School. We’re making history out here.”
The Lady Mustangs have only allowed seven goals this season and will carry their 20-game winning streak into the regional quarterfinals Jan. 23, at which time they’ll play host to Naples Gulf Coast. The winner will advance to the regional semifinals Jan. 28.
LADY COUGARS WIN DISTRICT CROWN
The Cardinal Mooney High girls soccer team captured its fourth district championship in five years with a 4-1 victory against DeSoto County in the Class 2A-District 11 championship Jan. 16.
Junior forward Rose Amato scored a pair of goals in the first nine minutes of regulation to lead the way for the Lady Cougars.
Skylar Jungers and Alex Byers each added a goal in the second half.
“At first, we kind of started off slow, but in the second half, we picked it up and got our game back together,” Amato says. “Our defense was really strong throughout the whole game. All the hard work paid off. Practice is where we get good. We don’t get good during the game.”
Trailing 4-0, DeSoto scored late in the second half. It was the first goal Cardinal Mooney allowed in a district game all season.
The Lady Cougars beat the Lady Bulldogs 8-0 in each of their previous two meetings.
With the win, the Lady Cougars will host Cape Coral Oasis in a regional quarterfinal match Jan. 23.
The winner will advance to the regional semifinals Jan. 28.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].