Ask coach Janet Heyman why the Bulldogs hovered near the .500 mark for most of the season and she can't come up with a reason.
Heck, she won't even venture a guess.
All Heyman knows is that Zephyrhills could not have chosen a better time to peak.
The Bulldogs entered the Class 2A, District 6 tournament with seven consecutive victories and five consecutive shutouts. During the string of shutouts, in which Zephyrhills outscored foes 24-0, Heyman said her team "came out with fire."
Zephyrhills has taken that fire into the district tournament. It had a first-round bye as the top seed and then smoked Hudson 10-0 Wednesday to earn a spot in the final. To show just how hot Zephyrhills is, during the regular season the Bulldogs beat Hudson 3-1 and tied it 4-4.
"I don't know if it's building up confidence together but I'm not complaining," Heyman said before the tournament. "We're just beginning to play as a team. It's just taken a little longer this year to jell."
Last season, Zephyrhills went 18-4-1 and won a district championship before losing in the regional semifinals. Thanks to a strong finish, this season's team headed into the post-season at 12-6-2, 10-0-2 in the district.
"It's going to be difficult against Springstead," Heyman said. "We're going to have to continue playing the way we are and not have any mental breakdowns."
There have been few breakdowns of late in the Bulldogs' high-powered attack. Despite losing two of its top three scorers last season to graduation (Nicole Boudreaux had 14 goals and 10 assists while Beatriz Fregoso had 15 goals and eight assists), Zephyrhills remains potent on offense.
DeeDee Castro (22 goals and 29 assists) leads the team in scoring for the third consecutive season. She added three goals against Hudson, but also reaggravated an ankle injury. Ashley McGavern (17, 10), Joslynn Willis (17, 4, with four more against Hudson) and Renee Yonkoff (12, 6) provide depth up front.
In back are two of the most solid players in the North Suncoast. Goalkeeper Kaitlyn Dolly registered eight shutouts, but her best game may have been the 1-0 loss to Land O'Lakes in which she made a handful of acrobatic saves.
Sweeper Nikki Castro, DeeDee's younger sister, was Zephyrhills' best defender as a freshman. As a sophomore, she is among the top backliners in the region.
DeeDee Castro, a senior who plays sweeper for her club team in Temple Terrace and will play in the back at Florida Atlantic University, played defense briefly in the Land O'Lakes game. Heyman made the move in the midst of the Bulldogs' struggles but relented and shifted Castro back to midfielder during that same game.
"I need her playmaking ability at midfield," Heyman said. "She certainly sets up everyone."