NEW PORT RICHEY — Immediately after wrapping up its first district title since the 2007-08 season, the Mitchell girls soccer team formed a circle in front of its bench and dropped to one knee.
The Mustangs screamed with delight after their 2-0 shutout of second-seeded Gulf.
They laughed about the few miscues they made; smiled thinking about the good plays that gave them the win.
But, mostly, they said thank you to a fallen friend.
Top-seeded Mitchell (21-2-1) won its fifth district title Friday, but foremost on the minds of the Mustangs was classmate Cierra Mamonoff, a Mitchell sophomore who was hit and killed by a car while trying to cross Little Road on Wednesday morning.
“This win was for Cierra,” Mitchell forward Arielle Anahory said. “Can you please put that in? We did this for her.”
In honoring Mamonoff, Mitchell put together one of its finest performances of the season in the Class 4A, District 7 championship.
The Mustangs were first to the ball from the opening whistle and pressured the Buccaneers (17-2-1) with wave after wave of scoring chances in the early going.
The Mustangs’ persistence was rewarded in the 20th minute when Shannon Estes-Larkin advanced the ball deep into the box and centered to the back post for a hard-charging Danielle Gottwik, who one-timed the ball into the back of the net.
“We’ve been playing very well lately and we’ve prepared for this by playing stronger teams, private schools like Tampa Prep, Tampa Catholic,” Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said.
Gottwik’s goal gave the Mustangs a 1-0 lead, but it also seemed to energize Gulf. The Buccaneers controlled possession for much of the rest of the half but couldn’t knock in a couple of prime scoring chances.
The Buccaneers continued taking the game to Mitchell to start the second half, but in the 49th minute, Anahory pounced on a bad giveaway by Gulf’s defense by beating Buccaneers goalkeeper Melissa Morlan (10 saves) to a loose ball and scoring on the open net against the run of play.
“I was just lucky to be there,” Anahory said. “I got around the keeper and it was an easy goal.”
With a 2-0 lead, Mitchell’s defense clamped down. Gulf had just seven shots on goal for the game, and all were stopped by Mitchell goalkeeper Erica Disbrow, a freshman making only her fourth start of the season.
“We had a couple breakdowns on defense, but other than that I thought our girls played really well,” Gulf coach Shari Schau said. “We just couldn’t get going on offense tonight.”
Mitchell and Gulf advance to Thursday’s region quarterfinal round. For the Buccaneers, it’s the first time they’ve made regionals since the 2005-06 season and only the third time in the school’s history.