BROOKSVILLE — Even in warmups before an eventual 8-0 blowout win, Sammie Betters throws her arms past her sideways ponytail and into the air after each goal.
The standout freshman forward has plenty of occasions to celebrate during her first season of high school soccer.
After recording a hat trick Tuesday against Central, Betters ranks among Tampa Bay’s leaders with 41 goals. She’s led a resilient Springstead team that should compete for another playoff berth when the Eagles open the Class 4A, District 4 tournament next week.
“We expected big things out of her,” said her older sister, Emma, “but I think she’s surpassed everyone’s expectations.”
Betters’ success shouldn’t come as a surprise. She’s already earning college looks while suiting up for the nationally competitive Tampa Bay United club team.
And she was skilled enough as a child to play on boys teams until she entered the U-14 ranks. Because her opponents were stronger and faster, Betters said she had to find other ways to excel.
“You have to think faster,” she said, “and you have to be able to play better.”
The lessons she learned then have helped her make an easy adjustment to the high school game. Coaches and teammates praise her ability to see the field, figure out what to do with the ball before it arrives and finish scoring chances.
“She’s well ahead of her class…” Springstead coach Scott Wern said. “I think her goals speak for themselves.”
Betters’ arrival has aided the offense of forward Tara-Lyn Vasquez — who recently picked up an offer from Saint Leo — and sparked an Eagles lineup that faltered last winter.
Springstead lost a strong senior class and broke in Wern during his first year as head coach. A 4-1 loss to Lecanto in the district semifinals snapped the Eagles’ run of consecutive district championships.
This winter the Eagles look ready to return to the playoffs for the fifth time since 2007. They opened the season with seven consecutive victories, rolling over opponents by a combined score of 46-6.
“We’re reloaded at this point,” Wern said.
The rebuilding process hasn’t been easy.
Springstead stumbled after its hot start. A fight against Lecanto led to a suspension, and the Eagles dropped the next game to Ocala Forest, 3-1. It lost twice more after that and settled for a scoreless tie against Nature Coast.
Mounting injuries didn’t help. One honorable mention all-North Suncoast talent, senior defender Kayla Montealegre, missed a month with mono. Another, midfielder Alexandra Piesik, was finally cleared to return Tuesday. Haleigh McDuff also missed time at midfield.
But the biggest issue has been on a defense that’s posted eight shutouts behind goalkeeper Emma Betters. The Eagles’ core — Montealegre, Renee Wern and Kirstin Penny — has played together six years. The players know when to pressure, when to cover and when to rotate.
Now that Springstead’s nucleus has returned, the Eagles have high hopes at another playoff run.
“I feel like we’re clicking really well,” Renee Wern said, “and I feel like we’re going to start clicking again now that we’re healthy.”
Six others to watch
Nature Coast: The Sharks advanced to the Class 3A region semifinals last year and are strong again this year, taking Springstead to a scoreless tie.
Land O’Lakes: After a first-round exit to Mitchell in last year’s playoffs, the Gators (13-4-4) are back with hopes of a much deeper run.
Mitchell: The Mustangs are unbeaten and only a tie with River Ridge away from perfect. Sophomore Amanda Hayes and junior Taylor Meek have combined for 46 goals.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls (14-2) have been banged up at times but still rank among the area’s top teams. Wiregrass has allowed only 11 goals all season.
River Ridge: Behind goalie Brittany O’Leary’s eight shutouts, the Royal Knights (13-3-2) haven’t slipped after having the best season in school history during last winter’s run to the region final.
Sunlake: After earning only 10 wins in the past two seasons, goalkeeper Maya Kamat and the Seahawks (8-7-4) turned it around this winter and are the No. 2 seed in Class 3A, District 7.
Tuesday: No. 5 Ocala Vanguard at No. 4 Gainesville, 7; No. 6 West Port at No. 3 Springstead, 6
Jan. 16 at Springstead: No. 2 Forest vs. Springstead-West Port winner, 6; No. 1 Lecanto vs. Gainesville-Vanguard winner, 8
Jan. 18 at Springstead: Final, 7
Class 4A-8 at Steinbrenner
Tuesday: No. 4 Freedom vs. No. 5 Sickles, 6; No. 3 Gaither vs. No. 6 Chamberlain, 8
Jan. 16: No. 1 Wiregrass Ranch vs. Freedom-Sickles winner, 6; No. 2 Steinbrenner vs. Gaither-Chamberlain winner, 8
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Monday: No. 8 Weeki Wachee at No. 1 Nature Coast, 6; No. 5 Tavares at No. 4 Leesburg, 6; No. 6 Hernando at No. 3 Citrus, 6; No. 7 Central at No. 2 Eustis, 6
Jan. 16 at Leesburg: Nature Coast-Weeki winner vs. Tavares-Leesburg winner, 5:30; Hernando-Citrus vs. Central-Eustis winner, 7:30
Friday at Leesburg: Final, 7
Class 3A-7 at Wesley Chapel
Tuesday: No. 4 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 5 Zephyrhills, 7
Jan. 16: No. 2 Sunlake vs. No. 3 Pasco, 6; No. 1 Land O’Lakes vs. Wesley Chapel-Zephyrhills winner, 7:45
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Class 3A-8 at Gulf
Monday: No. 2 River Ridge vs. No. 7 Anclote, 7
Tuesday: No. 3 Hudson vs. No. 6 Ridgewood, 5; No. 4 Fivay vs. No. 5 Gulf, 7
Jan. 16: Hudson-Ridgewood winner vs. River Ridge-Anclote winner, 5; No. 1 Mitchell vs. Fivay-Gulf winner, 7
Jan. 18: Final, 7
Tuesday: No. 5 Carrollwood Day at No. 4 Seffner Christian, TBD; No. 7 Bishop McLaughlin at No. 2 Calvary Christian, 4; No. 6 Cambridge at No. 3 Indian Rocks Christian, TBD
Jan. 17 at Calvary Christian: Calvary-Bishop winner vs. IRC-Cambridge winner, 5; No. 1 Tampa Prep vs. Seffner-CDS winner, 7
Jan. 18 at Calvary Christian: Final, 7
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.