When it comes to local high school soccer, the Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) boys have been the Wesley Chapel-area standard bearer, with a sterling 108-17-11 record the past five years, including a Class 4A State semifinal appearance in 2015.
But, in the early going this season, Wesley Chapel’s three girls high school teams are making some of their own headlines. Combined, Cypress Creek (CCH), Wesley Chapel (WCH) and WRH have a combined 26-9-1 record, boasting solid defenses and players who can put the ball in the back of the net.
Although area teams have always had to pass, unsuccessfully, through Mitchell, Pasco or Land O’Lakes when it comes to playoff time, they might just be on their way to finding the right path to do so.
Here’s a look at the local girls teams:
Wiregrass Ranch High
Last season: 12-8-3
This season: 9-3, 3-1 in Class 5A-7.
The Skinny: The Bulls have been the best of the three Chapel-area teams. They got off to the best start in school history, winning their first eight games, and have topped their arch-rival WCH Wildcats twice — once by a 3-1 score in the preseason, and by a 3-0 score on December 4.
Alhrough it looks like the Bulls struggled heading into Christmas break, despite losing three of their last four matches they were closes defeats to some of the best teams around — Palm Harbor University and Land O’Lakes (by 1-0 scores) and Wharton (by 2-0 score). Still, the Bulls have outscored their competition by an eyepopping 46-6, thanks to 20 goals from junior forward Avery Damjanovic, who transferred in from Wharton High in New Tampa after scoring 10 goals last season.
Damjanovic has scored hat tricks against Zephyrhills and Sunlake, and found the back of the net seven times in the win over Pasco. She also scored in the 3-0 wins over Plant and Wesley Chapel. Not seen on the stat sheet is a weather-postponed game against River Ridge where Damjanovic scored three goals in the first 13 minutes. So, she’s really sitting at 23 goals and five assists to start the season.
“Last year, we didn’t really have a striker, it was more midfielders playing up top,” WRH coach Edwin Costa says. “They finished the season with 14 goals. Avery already has more than that. Now, we can attack with five midfielders. It gives us the ability to score goals.”
Merrick Rees has four goals for the Bulls, while Kay Llanos was three.
Costa also is excited about his defense. He’ll ration time in goal between senior Mackenize Spurling and sophomore Lara Esen, but he’s particulary hopeful for his three-girl back line. Senior captain Ysa Novak, senior Marin Yeagle and junior Nisa Cahoon form a trio that is not only a solid rear guard, but a springboard for offensive forays.
“We can attack with seven or eight,” Costa says.
Cypress Creek Middle High
Last year: 3-13
This year: 7-3, 1-3 in Class 2A-9.
The Skinny: The Coyotes have already won more than twice as many games than they did all of last season, which was their first year as a school. They also already boast a victory over nearby rival WCH, defeating the Wildcats 3-2 last month after trailing 2-0.
Two losses suffered by the Coyotes have been respectable ones — 4-1 to an undefeated Clearwater Central Catholic team, and 3-0 to traditional Hillsborough County power Berkeley Prep.
Coach Jennifer Richardson, who started the CCH program last year, is building some rapport with her young group, which only includes two seniors. The roster has grown significantly in talent since last year.
“We had new players, good players, girls that play soccer, come out this year,” Richardson says. “Our freshman class brought in a lot of talent.”
Of the 16 players on the varsity roster, eight are freshmen. Freshman striker Emily Dominguez has already logged nine goals in as many games, including a pair of hat tracks, and Cypress Creek is 6-0 when she scores or assists on a goal.
Richardson says that freshman midfielder Sofia Ibata has been great and forms a strong tandem up top with junior Raegan Bourne, who led the team with 15 goals last season and leads them again so far with 10, including a hat trick Dec. 11 in a win over Fivay. However, if the Coyotes are going to come out of the 2018-19 season with a winning record, a goal for Richardson, it’s going to have to come from the experience they’ve developed.
Despite the lack of seniors this season, the Coyotes do have some veteran leadership. Bourne, who has scored five goals thus far, is a leader, as well as senior sweeper Katelyn Leavines, who plays a key role in the backfield. Junior keeper Alina Vizza also is a steady hand in goal.
Wesley Chapel High
Last year: 17-5-2
This year: 10-3-1, 8-1 in Class 3A-7.
The skinny: The Wildcats won the first girls soccer district title in school history last season, and started this season with 10 players returning from that roster, including sophomore defender Sydney Bauer, sophomore midfielder Kaylei Koschman and senior defender Emily Esquinaldo. All three serve as co-captains.
While the Wildcats’ only two losses so far this season have been to CCH and WRH (twice), they have defeated Land O’Lakes 1-0 (for the first time); the Gators have been ranked in the state’s Top 30 each of the past three seasons.
No one was hotter heading into winter break as the Wildcats went 5-0-1 in their final six games, outscoring th opposition 20-3.
“We had 18 different goal scorers last season,” says second-year coach Mark Leonard, “and we have 15 players on the team this year, and 10 already have goals.”
Senior attacking midfielder Heather Sefton leads the group with 15 goals in the first 12 games. She played the second half of last season after returning from an injury, when she scored seven goals in eight games. She obviously has picked up right where she left off.
Junior midfielder Gaby Cardenas has 10 goals thus far his season. Cardenas has a great left-footed shot and can move between forward and midfield. Koschman played right midfielder as a freshman for Wesley Chapel and returns to the midfield, albeit in the center, for 2018-19.
“(Koschman) is a smaller kid but she mixes it up with everyone,” Leonard says.
Junior Morgan Herndon is another fast, physical midfielder in Leonard’s talented rotation.
On defense, Leonard is high on Bauer. In fact, the coach is really excited about the whole left side of the formation, from Sefton to Cardenas to Bauer, even all the way back to sophomore keeper Madison Holcombe.
Holcombe won the starting job last season as a freshman but a knee injury shelved her until the district playoffs, where Leonard says she, “was huge for us during that run.”
Holcombe is tall and has a good wingspan. She registered three shutouts in the first seven games of the season (the team has six total) and kept the 3-0 loss to Wiregrass Ranch from being a blowout with some heady play.