LUTZ — Steinbrenner's storybook girls soccer season ended last year in spectacular fashion.
The second-year Warriors claimed the school's first state team title in any sport at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium. Current Spartans freshman Carly Keene headed in senior Lauren Laughlin's flip throw-in in overtime to give the Warriors a 2-1 win over defending champ Merritt Island to claim the Class 4A state title.
To repeat, the Warriors will need another touch of magic.
"I think it's definitely going to be different, because after winning states everyone is going to be extra motivated to beat us and bring us down," Steinbrenner forward Cici Gonzalez said. "I think we're pushing really hard to get back to where we were last year, and I think we definitely have to keep focused and be the best we can be."
In the offseason, coach Teresa Patterson stepped down to have a baby, replaced by former Bloomingdale girls and boys assistant Robert Woodard.
"It's really hard at any level to go back-to-back," Woodard said. "It's a very rare thing in high school. We've got the tools to do it. It's just selling them on the things that need to be done. It's making sure they know they have to work hard and not have it be when times get tough, 'Well, I have a ring.' "
In some ways, however, this year's team might be better. Senior midfielder Taylor Valley, who scored 18 goals and had 17 assists as a sophomore before not playing last season, returns. And junior Marley Opila is back from an injury that kept her sidelined last season.
And there's getting used to Woodard, who coached in six state title games at Bloomingale, including boys championship teams in 1993, 1995 and 1998.
"It's different," Gonzalez said. "He is really knowledgeable about soccer, and he wants us to be the best we can be. … It wasn't a tough transition."
Last season, the Warriors outscored their opponents 105-12, but this year's schedule likely won't allow for that dominance, but it doesn't mean they aren't capable of another state run.
"Last year, we built off every game we played," Gonzalez said. "So if we keep that mentality going and keep focused on one game at a time and not on winning district or going back to states when we haven't even won districts yet, if we treat it that way, it will be fine."
Teams to watch
|1. Steinbrenner: The defending Class 4A state champs have a lot of key players back from last year's team, but the title defense will likely be more difficult as everyone has put a target on them.|
|2. Newsome: Always rich with talent, the Wolves spent most of the season ranked No. 2 in the nation before losing the 5A state final to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Now they share a 5A district with Bloomingdale, Plant, Wharton.|
|3. Wharton: The Wildcats, led by a stellar defense, came on late last year to win the county's toughest district. With a year of experience, they should continue to contend.|
|4. Tampa Prep: Even though the Terrapins lost six senior starters off a team that advanced to the state tournament, they still have the county's top scorer in Colby Maffei.|
|5. Plant: In recent years, the Panthers have been rich in talent but short on postseason results. Former Tampa Prep coach Pam Smith, who led the Terps to a 2A state title in 2008, takes over a team that lost nine seniors.|
Players to watch
|MF/D Alyssa Bryant, Tampa Prep, Sr.: One of the Terrapins' most multidimensional players, she brings senior leadership.|
|F Taylor Decaire, Newsome, Jr.: One of the county's toughest and most opportunistic scorers.|
|D Danielle Eule, Steinbrenner, So.: Blossomed into an impact player during the Warriors' postseason run last season.|
|F Cici Gonzalez, Steinbrenner, Sr.: Quick net-filler had 100 points (33 goals, 34 assists) for the state champs last season.|
|D Miranda Gonzalez, Steinbrenner, So.: Talented defender is one of the county's best even though she's just a sophomore.|
|M Karli Gutsche, Newsome, Fr.: High expectations for the younger sister of former Wolves star Karina Gutche, but she has load of talent.|
|F Colby Maffei, Tampa Prep, Sr.: LSU recruit led the county with 42 goals last season to go with seven assists.|
|MF Abby Meckley, Plant, Sr.: As the Panthers center midfielder, she will be a catalyst for Plant's success.|
|GK Heather Montgomery, Wharton, Sr.: She had 12 shutouts last season and led the Wildcats to a district title.|
|D Jackie Simpson, Newsome, Sr.: Possibly the county's top all-around player, she does it all from the sweeper position.|
|D Isabel Vazquez, East Bay, Sr.: Strong physical defender is one of the county's best.|