TRINITY — Most of the 20 girls on Mitchell's soccer team were at practice 15 minutes early.
Everyone wore all-white practice clothes Wednesday, hoping to capture some of the intangibles that have made the boys team so strong this season (the boys usually wear all black).
Still, the move was strange for a team that went undefeated through its first 11 games.
That was one of many responses from a stunning 3-2 loss at Hudson on Tuesday night. The first loss of this season was an eerie reminder of how last season ended. The top-seeded Mustangs fell 2-1 to Alonso in the Class 6A, District 7 tournament semifinal round, just its second loss that season.
Wednesday became a day of reflection.
"You come to a point where every team that plays you wants it really bad," coach Karl Kukec said. "They want to win. (Hudson) played their best game against us."
Kukec lined up markers along a expansive grass field tucked between the Trinity YMCA and Mitchell High School. There would be a lot of conditioning work Wednesday afternoon.
Beforehand he recalled an effort in 2003 during his first season. His hungry Mitchell team upended Land O'Lakes 1-0 on the Gators' senior night thanks to a goal by then-freshman Lauren Schenk. The Gators went on to win the Class 2A state title that season with former Pasco County scoring machine Stacy Bishop.
But it was the fire the Mustangs had on that winning night Kukec says he often sees in opponents.
"We defeated them," Kukec said. "That's because everyone on our team wanted as much."
Mitchell scoring leader Marisa Russo said Hudson showed that kind of hunger Tuesday night. Russo, who has 13 goals and five assists, said she walked away sore from the close battles for balls.
"There were two girls on me so tight that when I walked I would step on their feet," Russo said. "We were marked tight. … Every time they scored a goal it would be like the state championship. At the end, they cheered like they won something."
Afterward, Mitchell players mulled around their coach. There was an unfamiliar silence, as if the Mustangs had just lost something. Now they hope it can help rally the team to avoid season-ending losses such as the one in January.
"It just kind of woke us up," Russo said. "We're all ready now. It actually was a good wake-up call for us because we don't usually lose."
The Mustangs still have a bunch of games to sharpen their skills before the district tournament. One obstacle ahead is the pending loss of Shelby Wright, who will graduate at the end of the semester and leave for Nova Southeastern to play soccer.
Regardless, Kukec believes playing in Class 4A, District 7 this season favors their chances of advancing.
"We cannot win every game," Kukec said. "I'm sure it will all be good in the end, but sometimes that's what happens. It happens to teams with 100 million dollar players. You cannot win every game."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.