Three North Suncoast girls soccer teams will play in the region semifinals tonight, but only two can advance farther.
Undefeated Mitchell will travel north to Winter Haven in the Class 4A tournament. In 3A, Land O’Lakes will also head north, but only as far as Brooksville, to face Nature Coast.
This will be the first time the Sharks (20-3-1) and Gators (24-1) have faced each other since 2011. Land O’Lakes coach Vicky King said the key now for her team is to take advantage of opportunities to score.
“Everyone at this point is a good team playing well,” King said. “We have to bring our game and prepare for competition.”
This is both teams’ third consecutive playoff appearance. Last year the Sharks fell in the region finals, and the Gators were stopped in the semis.
King acknowledges that she has a young team. The Gators start just two seniors and two juniors.
“But they’re experienced,” King said. “They’re players that have a lot of game experience, so it’s just about stepping up and playing.”
That youth hasn’t seemed all that detrimental to Land O’Lakes, which was handed its only loss by Mitchell.
Land O’Lakes spreads the wealth on offense, and players like Victoria Cannata, Samantha Epifanio and Brooke Silvest could give NCT keeper Samantha Oliveira trouble.
Don’t count Nature Coast out, though. The Sharks’ three losses were against teams they won’t play again, and they held 13 teams scoreless. If top scorer Hailey LaLande can edge past Land O’Lakes keeper Lauren Arrabito, who averages 2.36 saves per game and has 14 shutouts, the Sharks could advance.
NCT coach Lisa Masserio said defense will be the key to her team’s success.
“I think our defense has been a strength this season,” she said. “Our goalkeeper came up with some very big saves in the district championship match.”
The Sharks will also focus on working together to score. Masserio said most of the goals they’ve scored have come off assists.
“We attack together as a team, and there’s enough support — that’s what makes us have a great offensive team,” she said.
The Mustangs (23-0), meanwhile, face a Winter Haven team that has just two losses — both to a Lakeland Christian team safely confined to the Class A bracket.
This is Mitchell’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance. Last year the Mustangs made the state semifinals.
“We want to make it deep into the playoffs,” coach Karl Kukec said. “We’re prepared to give everything in this game. I do feel confident about it.”
Winter Haven could run into trouble if its defenders focus all of their energy on Sabrina Wagner (39 goals). Taylor Meek, Amanda Hayes, Casey Bruno and Danielle Gottwik each have goals in double digits.
“We’ve got a strong midfield that has pretty much dominated in all of the games,” Kukec said. “If that works, I’m pretty sure we’ll have that success.”