Sunday, December 17, 2017

Plant, Wesley Chapel to face off for girls lacrosse title

TAMPA — What started out as a silly question blossomed into quite a career path.

Heather Werry graduated high school in Pennsylvania and enrolled at Florida State. Werry, who played lacrosse up North, was spotted one day carrying her stick around campus when someone approached her.

"Why are you carrying a snowshoe?" the person asked.

Needless to say, Werry was quite taken aback, considering she hailed from a part of the country where lacrosse is huge.

"So me and five friends decided to start a club team at FSU," she said.

Fast forward 15 years and Werry, now in her fifth season as the head coach of Plant High's club team, will be leading her team against host Wesley Chapel on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. for the West Florida Lacrosse League championship.

"This has been the best experience ever," she said. "It has been so rewarding."

Plant (13-2) advanced to Saturday's title game after an 8-5 win against Newsome last Friday in the district championship.

"This is the first year we have been super focused," defender Alex Mathews said. "We've had a sense since the beginning of the year that we can win the championship."

Wesley Chapel was one of two teams to beat Plant this year, but Mathews said that defeat was the catalyst for the rest of the season.

"Even though we lost I think that game really taught us a lot," she said of the 9-8 midseason loss to Wesley Chapel. "They played a style we hadn't really seen before. We learned a lot from that game."

Senior midfielder Caitlin Smith agreed, saying Plant will be much more prepared this time around.

"They run a lot of picks and move the ball around really well," she said. "We can't just stay in our triangle defense. You have to be able to get around those picks and slide the defense over."

She also said that loss to Wesley Chapel made the Panthers hungrier.

"It's tough when you lose a close game like that and you know you shouldn't have," she said. "We could have played much better but after that (loss), we really started playing with some much more enthusiasm and things just exploded."

Smith and Mathews are two of 11 seniors on Plant's team. Although she'll be losing a large chunk of the team next year, Werry pointed to the South Tampa Sticks as a reason for optimism.

"They are really an amazing feeder program for us and have done a great job getting these girls ready to play when they reach the high school level," she said.

Sofia Emond leads the Panthers with 24 goals while Sloane Henry tops the team in assists. Goalie Bekah Kleiner, who's started every game this season, also drew praise from Werry.

"She's been absolutely killing it this year," she said.

As of right now, Hillsborough County hasn't adopted lacrosse as a recognized sport though many counties throughout the state have. The School Board is, however, considering adding the sport as a fee-based pilot program next year.

"Lacrosse has just been growing and growing, and it's a sport people just fall in love with," Smith said. "I think adding it would be one of the best things Hillsborough County could do for high school sports."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

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Published: 12/16/17