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TAMPA — Entering this season with its third head coach in three years, just five returning starters and a new district that included traditional powerhouse Newsome, Plant senior Abby Meckley didn’t know what to make of her team’s chances.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in, just because everything was different this year,” said Meckley, resting her turf toe and watching from behind the goal as the rest of her healthy teammates practiced on the turf field on this picturesque Florida winter day.
“But we’ve done pretty well.”
Pretty well indeed, as Plant (13-1-1) enters next week’s Class 5A, District 7 tournament as the No. 1 seed. Meckley leads the Panthers with 10 goals and 25 points.
The principal difference between last year’s squad and its disappointing, upset loss in the district semifinals to Wharton and this year’s young, overachieving group, according to Meckley and coach Pam Smith, is due to one of the most basic intangibles: attitude.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team, it’s just a matter of making them a team and getting them to work together,” Smith said. “In the past, they’ve kind of just come out and played high school soccer, so we needed to get them out here, caring about Plant, and play with a little heart and desire.”
“Even if we’re not the most skilled team,” Meckley added, “everyone is working really hard, no one had the same, ‘Oh, this coach knows me, I can just lay off,’ attitude.”
Attacking right from the first second netted the Panthers an early goal that proved the difference in a 1-0 victory Nov. 7 at Newsome. At the time, the Wolves were ranked the 11th-best team in Florida by ESPN. Newsome is the No. 2 seed for next week’s tournament.
“We weren’t expecting it; we were the underdogs,” Meckley said. “Newsome was like, ‘Oh, no big deal,’ which played to our advantage.”
Plant won’t have the luxury of playing spoiler next week. The Panthers play Robinson (9-4-1), the top seed in 3A-9, Friday for senior night. In addition to Meckley and her turf toe, fellow senior captain Sophie Sanchez is recovering from an ankle injury sustained in Plant’s 1-0 win over Bloomingdale on Jan 3. The only other senior, UCF commit Kaitlyn Steckel, has missed the season recovering from ACL surgery. Smith expects her team — and everyone else in the district — will be patched up in time.
“Throughout the season, everyone is playing club, you have injuries here and there, so who knows who had their best line-up when we played the first time,” Smith said. “You never know.”
5A-7 at Bloomingdale
Tuesday: No. 3 Wharton vs. No. 6 Durant, 4; No. 2 Newsome vs. No. 7 Alonso, 6; No. 4 Bloomingdale vs. No. 5 Riverview, 8
Jan. 18: Newsome/Alonso winner vs. Wharton/Durant winner, 5; No. 1 Plant vs. Bloomingdale/Riverview winner, 7
Jan. 20: final, 7
Class 4A-9 at Plant City
Tuesday: No. 6 Tampa Bay Tech at No. 3 Hillsborough, 4; No. 7 Armwood vs. No. 2 Plant City, 6; No. 5 Brandon vs. No. 4 Strawberry Crest, 8
Jan. 18: TBT/Hillsborough winner vs. Armwood/Plant City winner, 6; No. 1 East Bay vs. Brandon/Strawberry Crest winner, 8
Jan. 20: Final, 7
Class 4A-8 at Freedom
Tuesday: No. 4 Gaither vs. No. 5 Sickles, 6; No. 3 Wiregrass Ranch vs. No. 6 Chamberlain, 8
Jan. 18: No. 1 Steinbrenner vs. Gaither/Sickles winner, 6; No. 2 Freedom vs. Wiregrass/Chamberlain winner, 8
Jan. 20: Final, 7
Class 3A-9 at Lennard
Tuesday: No. 1 Robinson vs. No. 8 Spoto, 6; No. 2 King vs. No. 7 Blake, 8
Jan. 18: No. 4 Leto vs. No. 5 Jefferson, 6; No. 3 Lennard vs. No. 6 Middleton, 8
Jan. 19: Robinson/Spoto winner vs. Leto/Jefferson winner, 6; Lennard/Middleton winner vs. Blake/King winner, 8
Jan. 20: Final, 7
Class 2A-9 at Tampa Catholic
Tuesday: No. 5 Holy Names vs. No. 4 Tampa Catholic, 6
Jan. 18: No. 3 Berkeley Prep vs. No. 2 St. Petersburg Catholic, 5; No. 1 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. AHN/TC winner, 7
Jan. 19: final, 7
Class A-7 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 8 Academy at the Lakes at No. 1 Tampa Prep, 7; No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Bishop McLaughlin, 7; No. 6 Calvary Christian at No. 3 Carrollwood Day, 7; No. 5 Indian Rocks Christian at No. 4 Cambridge, 7
Jan. 19 at Tampa Prep: Bishop McLaughlin/Seffner winner vs. Carrollwood Day/Calvary winner, 6; Tampa Prep/AATL winner vs. Cambridge/IRC winner, 8
Jan. 20 at Tampa Prep: Final, 7