How about shocked?
"Yeah, shocked would be a pretty accurate description," Plant goalkeeper Kara Looby said. "It was pretty tough, especially for the seniors we had and everyone who had been around the program for a few years."
Plant, a team that breezed through the regular season with barely a blemish, found itself on the wrong end of a district semifinal overtime loss to Bloomingdale. All the regular season wins, the No. 1 district seed and aspirations for a deep postseason run evaporated in the time it took for the deciding penalty kick to roll past Looby.
"We didn't do what we needed to do," Plant coach Pam Smith said of the season-ending match. "So we ended up bowing out of the semis and now the challenge is figuring out what to do to prevent it from happening again."
And so far in 2012, the Panthers appear to have put last year's bitter ending behind them. Plant has gotten off to a 4-0-1 start, including wins against Gaither and Steinbrenner and a draw against Newsome despite several players hampered with the flu.
"The way the season ended was shocking and painful," Smith said. "It was something that hurt but all we've talked about since tryouts is making it right."
Plant certainly has the pedigree and a wealth of experience on its side this year. The Panthers graduated just two players who saw significant playing time off last season's team while this year's version features 13 upperclassman, including seven seniors.
"We're going to have a lot of spots to fill next season, that's for sure," Smith said.
Looby, who will continue her soccer career at Georgia next season, may be the most important of all those seniors. Smith called her "excellent" and Looby is arguably the top area keeper.
"She is very vocal back there and talks very well to her defense to keep them organized," Smith said.
Despite all the Panthers experience, Looby has a freshman starting right in front of her at centerback. Emily Evangelista currently occupies the second most important defensive position on the field but Looby said the freshman has proven herself.
"I'm not going to lie, at the beginning of the season I was a little nervous having someone I didn't know and was so young playing there," she said. "But she has done a great job there."
Kendall Harmon, a junior who's already committed to Stetson, moves from the midfield to the backline this season. The Panthers also have one of the top area field players in Caroline Bado, who's committed to UCF. The 5-foot-7 center midfielder is a physical player with a nonstop motor.
"She plays forward in club so she has that skill set, but she a big, strong girl who can go and get those 50/50 balls," Smith said. "She's a workhorse."
Smith is still tinkering with her strikers but Nastasia Asgedom has given the coach plenty of reasons to keep her there, scoring in each of the Panthers' first four matches. Flagler commit Charsley Greiwe has paired with Asgedom to start the season.
"Both of them can play forward or midfield and Nastasia might be our most versatile player," Smith said.
Although Looby said the Panthers "have the skill and players" to get to the state championship game, getting out of the district tournament might again prove a potential stumbling block. The Panthers are joined by Newsome, Bloomingdale and Wharton in the wickedly tough 5A-7 district.
"It's without a doubt the toughest district in the county," Smith said. "And I think it's the toughest in the state. We are in there with tremendous teams we're going to have our hands full."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]