LAND O’LAKES — Having to overcome graduation losses is just the way of life for a high school coach.
Having to do so midseason? That is a bit rarer and what faces Jamie Finan’s Sunlake soccer team. The Seahawks host Gulf on Friday in Cassidy Place’s final performance.
As a junior, Place got herself on pace for early graduation. She said the suggestion came from Saint Leo coach Ged O’Connor, which makes sense since Place had committed to play for the Lions.
“I’m happy for her; it’s the best route. But at the same time … I wish I could get two more weeks,” Finan said.
Place’s departure comes with just a few weeks left in the high school regular season and puts a considerable dent in the Seahawks’ plans to extend beyond that with a playoff run.
Place leads Sunlake with 26 goals, adding four to her total in Wednesday’s 8-0 win against Zephyrhills. Though Place is a defender she has been playing forward, part of Finan’s plan to prepare a young defense for her departure.
In fact on Wednesday, Sunlake started four ninth-graders on the back line . Two midfielders gave the Seahawks seven freshmen out of the starting 11.
Place says she tried to pass along as much as she could along to the younger members, stressing how to lead from the back. And after Wednesday’s game, Place didn’t sound like someone who has checked out.
“I’m excited, but I want to beat Gulf,” she said. The teams played to a scoreless draw Nov. 21.
Sunlake (13-2-2) has wrapped up second place in Class 3A, District 8. Gulf will hope for a win that might vault the Bucs into third and away from having to face Land O’Lakes (17-0) to reach the district tournament final.
Entering college a semester early will not count toward her athletic eligibility, meaning Place can play four seasons.
“The big thing is instead of starting college in June, (meaning) I’m there one month and then boom it’s time for the season to start, I really feel this way I’ll be much better prepared,” Place said, referring not just to soccer but academics.
Added Finan: “She’s right. So many athletes struggle with their grades at the beginning. This is going to help a lot.”
And so today will be a unique senior night just for one person. (Key team members Gabby Maramara, Carly Hill and Grace Bunch will be honored in January).
“We’ve got some things lined up for her. Don’t want to spoil the surprise,” Finan said