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Cotey: This is the year Seminole repairs a heartache

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Thu. February 11, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

In the grand tradition of Seminole girls soccer, the veterans spend a night each year "tagging" the homes of younger players. With toilet paper.

Lots of toilet paper.

Coach Steve Kuplicki is spared the squares, but this year, his veterans decided to tag his garage, with a banner-sized sign covering the door.

It was signed by all his players.

It said: "This is the year, Coach."

Noel Forsman, a senior co-captain, says that was no empty slogan on that banner.

Not this time.

"This time," she said, "it just feels right."

Today at 12:45 p.m. in Tampa, Seminole takes on Mosley in a Class 5A state semifinal. With a victory, it will play for the program’s first state championship Saturday.

The Warhawks have made the state semifinals four times. They have made the state championship match three times. Once, they even hosted the state championship, in Kuplicki’s first season.

But they haven’t been back to the final four since 1991, while in that span Lakewood, Palm Harbor University, Clearwater Central Catholic, Countryside and Tarpon Springs have won titles.

"For the past month at practices you can tell Coach realizes we can do this," said senior Megan Lawrence. "He’s been a little more serious. You can tell. You can see the want in his eyes."

After 30 years coaching the Largo boys and Seminole girls, and 425 wins, and coming oh-so-close, a state title would be oh-so-sweet for Kuplicki.

Kuplicki came painfully close to winning a state title his first season at Seminole. The Warhawks, led by Player of the Year Beth Elias, hosted the Class 4A final against Lake Mary but missed a penalty kick with 12 minutes remaining in a 1-0 loss.

"That’s the one we talk about," Kuplicki said. "When the girls from that team come to visit, we try to get that game out of the way as quickly as possible."

In his second season, Seminole advanced to the state semifinals, losing again 1-0, this time to Lake Brantley. His third season, the Warhawks rode a 57-goal season by Player of the Year Michelle Demko right into another state championship game defeat.

Seminole, which also lost the state championship match in 1983, has been to the playoffs another 12 times under Kuplicki, but never advanced farther than the region final.

"One of the moms likes to pump us up, she looks all that stuff up," said Forsman. "She posted on Facebook alluding to the fact that the last time Seminole made it this far was the year most of us were born."

Everything has come together this season, starting with nemesis PHU, which had knocked the Warhawks out of the playoffs four of the past five seasons, moving up to Class 6A.

Seminole returned a strong senior class headed by Lawrence, Forsman and keeper Casey Merson.

Junior Sierra Lelii emerged as a top scoring threat with 35 goals after missing her sophomore season. Center midfielder Melanie Benner has been a playmaker, sophomore Gina Heyduk has 19 goals and 14 assists and freshman Jordyn Turner is a rising standout who is already starting.

"We have all the pieces," Merson said.

The challenge is greater than ever, provided it beats Mosley. Then either Melbourne, last year’s 6A champion and current No. 1 in the country according to ESPN Rise, or Lakeland George Jenkins, No. 3 in the same poll, awaits.

Neither team has lost this season.

But the Warhawks were confident at their final practice Thursday. They talked about destiny and history and chemistry.

They gathered together, held up the sign they had made for Kuplicki and smiled for pictures.

You didn’t need to read the words on the sign. You could see it in the players’ eyes, and hear it in their voices.

This is the year, Coach.

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