Avery Walker began last school year as the head coach for the Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) boys soccer junior varsity team, and finished it as the coach of two teams when he stepped in and took over the girls varsity soccer team midway through the season.
But, when it came to choosing which squad to coach this season, it was an easy call for Walker.
“The girls won me over,” he says.
Walker split the girls duties last year with boys varsity coach Dave Smith after Edwin Acosta resigned for personal reasons following a 6-1-1 start. Walker remembers his first game against River Ridge, when he had former player Ysa Novak make out the lineup. Walker jokes that he just kind of watched as he became familiar with his new players.
The Bulls won that game 4-3, and then won the next 13, including the Class 6A, District 5 championship and a first-round Regional playoff game before falling to St. Petersburg on penalty kicks.
Overall, not a bad debut. And the girls, who finished with a school-record 19-2-1 record last season, were happy to welcome him back.
“It was definitely a shock in the beginning (when Costa resigned),” says junior co-captain Kayla Ojeda. “But, I felt like we adjusted really well. Coach Walker came in and did a great job coaching us and helping us make it to Regionals. I was hoping he would sign up for the job and was really excited when he got it.”
Ojeda, a defender, is one of the keys if the Bulls are going to repeat the success of last season. While the team loses its top two scorers in Avery Damjanovic (34 goals, 11 assists) and Kylee Ehmann (12 goals, 20 assists), Ojeda heads up a defense that is stout. Walker, who played defense in college at Division III Bridgewater College in Virginia, loves what he sees.
Freshman Lola Vargas, sophomore Ashtyn Warner and seniors Taylor Pryor and Savannah Yoder comprise a group that Walker says is “extremely” good. If you happen to sneak by the Wiregrass wall, then co-captain and starting keeper Ella McGahey will be waiting.
“I think our backline is going to be really solid this year and, as a goalkeeper, it’s something you always want to have confidence in,” McGahey says. “Our goal is to concede fewer than 10 goals this season.”
That would appear to be a reasonable goal, since the Bulls allowed only 12 last year, as McGahey set a school record by allowing just 0.372 goals per game. The Bulls are 3-0-1 so far this season and haven’t allowed a goal.
Offensively, Walker feels he can fill the holes with junior midfielders Ellie Klem, who missed last season with an injury, and Natalia Kaminski, a newcomer.
The Bulls also return junior forwards Rylee Humphries, the leading returning scorer with 11 goals and nine assists, and Aiya Harrell (eight goals last season). Junior McKayla Battle scored six goals last year and picked up four in an 8-0 win over Anclote, and sophomore Emily Erker scored the only goals in 1-0 wins this season over Mitchell (which is now coached by Costa) is the season opener and their last game against Berkeley Prep.
Newcomer Bella Maldonado, who scored twice in the win over Anclote, also is expected to make an impact at midfield this season as well.
After back-to-back 19-win seasons, the sky may be the limit for the Bulls in 2020-21. Always in the shadow of a boys soccer program that is regarded as a state title contender every year, the girls look ready to step out this season.
“I definitely think we’re making a name for ourselves,” Ojeda says. “I think we’re going to keep it going this year.”
Cypress Creek High girls soccer coach Jessica Herzek is high on her freshmen and sophomores this season, and why not? Allison Souers, one of those freshmen Herzek is happy about, scored five goals in her first-ever high school game, an 11-0 season-opening win over South Sumter.
The still-young Coyotes, coming off a 9-7-1 season, have only one senior on their roster.
Youngsters like junior Hailey Canady (two goals in the season-opening win), sophomore Hannah Fulpo (a goal and two assists) and sophomore keeper Alex Capocy (1.16 goals-against-average) will lead the way.
“I have numerous girls who, if they choose, could go on to play at the collegiate level,” Herzek says. “I feel this will be an amazing season, but the next few years will get better and better.”
The Coyotes are 1-0-1, with a 2-2 tie against rival Wesley Chapel.
Since taking over in 2017, Wesley Chapel High coach Mark Leonard has set a school record for wins every year, including last year’s 20-4 mark, and won three straight District 4A-6 titles.
Keeping that going will be the goal for this season, though the Wildcats were outscored 22-1 in their first three games before earning a draw with the Coyotes.
Leonard says returning seniors Sydney Bauer, Kaylei Koschman (11 goals last year) and keeper Madison Holcombe, as well as junior Maddy Golka (nine goals) comprise the team’s core, and he expects newcomer Tatum Moore and sophomores Kiera McFeron and Kacey Snead to have breakout seasons on offense.