Sarasota isn't satisfied with their level of play, though.
Practice makes perfect, but so does patience, at least in the case of the Sarasota High boys soccer team.
In its third season under coach Parker Thurman, the Sailors, with 12 seniors, finally saw a breakthrough and went from 5-10-0 to 10-0-5. Finishing the regular season with no losses became a goal of the team once it got off to a 6-0 start, senior co-captain Makena Winch said. Those six wins included a 2-1 road win over rival Riverview High, which Winch, a midfielder/defender, credits with giving the squad confidence in itself.
The Sailors are doing it with defense, which has been a constant under Thurman. The Sailors have allowed 11 goals through 15 games. Thurman credited the seniors with the turnaround. Once they believed they could do it, he said, they got everyone else to believe. He also credited senior goalkeeper Nicola Piras with keeping goals off the score sheet when things do break down.
Sarasota gets its defensive toughness from unorthodox places, like a game it plays at practice where a net is placed at each end of one goal box. Thurman has his team scrimmage from inside the box, with each play starting with a cross to the front of the net from Thurman himself. The first side to score 15 times being crowned the winner. Thurman said his philosophy is to get each player as many touches on the ball as possible, getting kids playing together and creating chemistry. Scrimmaging is a large part of the Sailors' practices.
This particular drill came from the Sailors' inability to finish near the net in their regular-season finale, a 1-1 tie with Cardinal Mooney High. It's something Thurman said he hopes to see improve when the Sailors play their first district tournament game on Feb. 4 (opponent TBD). He's still waiting for the team to play an 80-minute game at their best level, which is frustrating but also encouraging, given their record. If the team can keep up their A game until the final whistle, Thurman said, there's not many teams that can hang with them.
It's not all because of the defense, either.
"Our strikers, they worked hard in the offseason and came back a lot better," senior co-captain Braxton Bowdell said. "They are able to score a lot more goals and we get a lot of opportunities. Last season our team had a big problem with finishing, but Francesco (La Rosa) and Andres (Mata) have good chemistry now. They can put stuff in the back of the net, and that helps a lot."
If the Sailors advance through their district tournament, it is likely that they will be an underdog in the regional tournament, with their opponent ranked higher by MaxPreps. Despite being undefeated, the Sailors are ranked 25th in Class 6A and 94th in the state overall. The team is sure of itself, though, and understands their predicament.
"I'm more upset by the games we didn't finish than our ranking," Makena Winch said. "If we had won them instead of tying, we'd be ranked higher. We don't deserve it."
Starting Feb. 4, Sarasota will continue its quest to earn its way to the top.