The Out-of-Door Academy girls soccer team celebrated its undefeated regular season with a shrug.
After shaking hands with Seffner Christian (4-12) following an 8-0 home win, the Thunder (12-0-1) briefly huddled together to receive advice and practice details from Head Coach Wayne Ramsey. Then they went home. There were no fireworks, no screaming, and no celebrating with a dogpile.
While the players are proud of their season effort, Ramsey said they have their eyes on a bigger prize, and they refuse to be satisfied by anything less.
The program has been on an upswing since Ramsey was hired prior to last season. While adjusting to Ramsey's way of doing things in 2022-2023, ODA went 9-6. It was a sizable improvement from the prior season, when the team finished 6-8-1, and featured a memorable moment — beating rival Saint Stephen's Episcopal 1-0 in penalty kicks to capture the Sunshine State Athletic Association tournament trophy.
In soccer, the SSAA tournament is designed as a stepping-stone event on the path to the Florida High School Athletic Association state tournament. Most of the SSAA participants are small private schools.
When ODA won the SSAA tournament last year, Ramsey said, his players reacted like all of their goals had been accomplished. Ramsey said it caused the team to lose focus the rest of the way. ODA did not win its FHSAA district and was eliminated by Cambridge Christian 3-0 in the regional tournament stage of the postseason.
ODA again captured the SSAA tournament title this season, winning 2-1 over Saint Stephen's (8-3-3) on Jan. 13 in Brandon. This time, Ramsey said, the team reacted much like it did in completing the undefeated regular season. The players quickly acknowledging it, then moved on. The players now know that their focus cannot slip, Ramsey said.
"(Last year) they thought they could win just by walking onto the field," Ramsey said. "This year, they know there is more they can do."
Ramsey said he wants every practice to have the same energy to it, and that he is going to play whoever earns it, at whatever position most benefits the team, even if it is not what that player is used to playing.
Senior Abbey Burwood, who started playing with the ODA varsity team while she was still in middle school, was one such player. Burwood was a forward or outside midfielder her entire soccer career, but has made the switch to defense, playing either left back or center back depending on the opposition.
It was not easy for Burwood to change her thinking after so much time in more offensive positions.
"I always have had the mindset of, 'I want to score,'" Burwood said. "But this (switch) has shown me that defense does actually matter. It is how teams win championships. I have shown myself that I can actually do it. I'm not just a forward who cherry picks (stays close to midfield) on defense."
The move has worked out for Burwood and the team. With Burwood playing defense, among other player-position changes, ODA has allowed just seven goals this season, three of them coming in a 9-3 win over Manatee High on Nov. 28. The lone game the Thunder did not win was a 0-0 tie with Bradenton Christian on Nov. 30.
ODA is averaging 4.8 goals per game, with freshman Alana Kaplan leading the way with nine goals. Burwood is still involved in the offense, but in a different way. She is tied for the ODA lead in assists with seven, alongside junior Katherine Triola.
Ramsey complimented Burwood, alongside fellow seniors Charlie Hugill and Emilie McKenna, for being steady presences while younger players became adjusted to the varsity level of play.
"They mean everything to the program," Ramsey said. "They helped other players buy into what I wanted from them. They spread the message. They're still going to be key (in the postseason)."
Ramsey said his defense can tighten up even more and all his players need to work hard to get into better shape.
But he and his players are grateful for their position. He said now they want an undefeated postseason.
"We're coming along," Ramsey said. "We rely on every player in our program and we need all of them to continue improving. They all will have to step up (at some point), because there's more we can accomplish."
The team's first district tournament game will be Jan. 30 at home, at a still to-be-determined time.
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.