- January 25, 2012
It ended too soon for the Lakewood Ranch High girls soccer players, but they said the 2022-2023 season was historic nonetheless.
The Mustangs (19-1-1) were eliminated from the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 7A playoffs Feb. 14 with a 2-1 road loss to Palm Harbor University High (19-1).
The game was scoreless after regulation and eventually was decided by penalty kicks. Mustangs Coach Delaney Riggins said her team took the loss hard, but she made sure they knew how proud she was of their effort.
"Our girls left everything on the field," Riggins said. "I could not have asked for more."
The Mustangs went undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 2013-2014. Riggins, who was a player on the 2013-2014 team, said she could tell early this season that her current players were special.
However, the players actually exceeded her expectations. Riggins said if a player went down with an injury, the next player stepped up and played well. She also said other players made improvements "above and beyond" what the coaching staff thought they could. It all added up to a dream run, albeit one that ended one goal short of the state semifinals, which the 2013-2014 team reached.
Riggins said she learned a lot from coaching the team through its undefeated run, but the most important lesson was balancing hard work with fun.
"If you're only having one or the other, it's not going to have a positive outcome," Riggins said. "This year, the players pushed each other in practice, but we also had a lot of opportunities for them to have fun together, whether that was through team meals or even certain drills during training. I think that balance led to a lot of our success."
Riggins was not the only one in the program who felt strongly about this season. Players like senior defensive midfielder and captain Regan Kelly called the season unforgettable, and not just because of all the wins.
Kelly said she and a group of her teammates experienced a flat tire on the drive to Palm Harbor for the team's regional final game. It was an annoyance, Kelly said, and made the players 15 minutes late, but everyone made the best of the situation by cracking jokes and laughing hard.
It was a microcosm of the team's attitude all season, Kelly said. Whenever a challenge was presented, the team rallied and got through it. It was that attitude that led to the undefeated regular season, and Kelly said it's why getting the flat tire was her favorite memory from the season, as odd as it might seem.
Kelly said she's done some reflecting in the days since the Palm Harbor loss on what the Mustangs have meant to her over her four years. Before joining the Mustangs, Kelly said, she had never been with a core set of teammates for this long. In her club soccer career, Kelly switched teams a few times and often had to drive far, as much as an hour and a half, to be with her team. It's difficult to create bonds like that, Kelly said.
With the Mustangs, the bond was instant, and it has lasted, only growing stronger over time.
"It's something you don't get to experience much, if ever," Kelly said. "It's an amazing feeling. It's probably the happiest I've ever been, playing high school soccer."
The Mustangs will graduate seven seniors, including key contributors like Kelly, defender Danielle Vogel and forward Julia Magno, who tied for the team lead with 18 goals. But junior Sophie Lemus, the other player with 18 goals, will return, as will dynamic sophomore Olivia Hadad (16 goals, 41 points), junior midfielder Madison Adams (11 goals, 29 points) sophomore goalkeeper Emma Chapman, who earned her way into the postseason lineup with strong play.
Kelly said next season's Mustangs will have a shot at another deep postseason run.
"Everyone (returning) brings something to the table," Kelly said. "They are so competitive and they are great girls. They play for each other. I think it will be another successful season and I'm going to come back and watch some of their games when I can.
"I'm proud of all of them. It's sad that our season is over, but I hope to stay in touch with everyone, and I know that they're all going to be successful."