Even though the Lakewood Ranch High girls soccer team is unbeaten at 19-0-1 and one win from making the state semifinals, Mustangs Coach Delaney Riggins isn't afraid of making changes.
Riggins has done so all year.
Some were strategic, like moving second-leading goal scorer Sophie Lemus to the defense, which was depleted by injuries. That change has worked, but in an ideal world, Lemus would still be playing forward.
More surprising might have been a move in goal.
For most of the season, sophomore Emma Chapman was the program's junior varsity goalkeeper. She performed well, allowing four goals in 10 games, with seven shutouts. With the junior varsity season ending in December, Chapman joined the varsity roster in January, but didn't expected to see any playing time.
But that has changed in the postseason. With the Mustangs' varsity keepers nursing injuries, Riggins decided to give Chapman a chance in the team's district final against North Port High, a team the Mustangs had previously beaten twice.
If it appeared the pressure of a varsity playoff game was too much for the sophomore, the team could make a change — or let her learn from it, as even a loss would not have cost the team a spot in regionals thanks to its sparkling record.
There was no reason to be worried. though, as Lakewood Ranch beat North Port 2-0. Mustangs Coach Delaney Riggins said Chapman looked poised in net and kept things under control. Chapman's district final performance, plus her undefeated junior varsity record, convinced Riggins to stay with Chapman during the playoff run.
Chapman started Lakewood Ranch's 8-2 regional quarterfinal win over Plant High and the team's 5-1 regional semifinal win over Steinbrenner High.
"In the past three games, she has stepped up to do amazing things," Riggins said of Chapman. "We're proud of her and looking forward to seeing what else she can bring."
Chapman did not have to do a lot against Steinbrenner as Lakewood Ranch controlled play from the outset, holding the Warriors — the No. 9 team in the class, according to MaxPreps rankings — to a handful of scoring opportunities.
The one goal Chapman did allow was a shot from the far right side of the field by Steinbrenner's Aaliyah Pitts, who has 26 goals in 2022-2023, ninth most in the class.
Chapman said she was stunned when the coaches asked her to start for the varsity, but quickly became acclimated thanks to the welcoming nature of the roster. Chapman said she has no nerves about ordering a veteran player into a certain spot when facing corner kicks or performing other goalkeeper duties. She said the Mustangs' strong defense has made the transition smooth.
"It's a lot more competitive at this level," Chapman said. "Especially now (in the playoffs). Teams don't want to be playing their last game. Everyone wants to move on. It's intense, but my teammates have made me feel like family."
Chapman has been working on her skills for a long time. Chapman said she first became interested in sports through school games of dodgeball. She liked the rush of the ball wizzing at her head — and the relief of snagging it before it could do any damage. The combination of feelings made Chapman look at other sports where she could do similar things, and being a soccer goalkeeper stood out.
"I like being the last one to save the ball," Chapman said. "I like that responsibility."
The coaching staff loves her attitude.
"She's great at knowing when to come out and win the ball, especially when it is past out defensive line," Riggins said. "She's good at commanding her box and she's good with her feet."
Riggins said there was no hesitation from her or her staff when making the decision to play Chapman in the postseason despite her inexperience.
If Chapman does make a mistake at some point, the Mustangs have an offense capable of bailing her out. Even with Lemus playing on defense, the Mustangs sent shot after shot at the Steinbrenner net on Feb. 10. Senior Julia Magno scored twice, giving her 18 goals, and sophomore Olivia Hadad (16 goals), senior Gabi Madrid (eight goals) and senior Regan Kelly (five goals) all scored once.
The Mustangs play Palm Harbor University High (18-0) on Feb. 14 for a spot in the state semifinals. If the Mustangs win, they will play either Bartram Trail High (18-0-2) or Creekside High (12-5) at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at a to-be-determined location based on reseeding.
The Lakewood Ranch High goalkeeper will be ready for whatever happens.
"We just have to keep playing like we did tonight," Chapman said. "We have to want it."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.