NEW PORT RICHEY — Inside Gulf’s gym, a banner hangs behind the basket on the southern end, extolling the accomplishments of the girls soccer program.
1991, 1992 and 1996 are listed, the years the Bucs won the Sunshine Athletic Conference — and that’s about it.
Gulf’s girls soccer postseason history reads like an abridged version of Reader’s Digest. The Bucs have qualified for the playoffs just twice, and they’ve never won a postseason game.
But after starting the 2010-11 season 9-0, the current group of Bucs is ready to change the area’s perception of their program.
“Girls basketball has always been good here and wrestling won a state title last year. They have all these great banners, and then there’s our lonely one,” stopper Alyssa Skelton said. “I would love to put another number up there.”
So far, Gulf has been racking up the numbers this season, mostly on the scoreboard. The Bucs have scored 43 goals (led by Hannah Foster’s 11) and are averaging nearly five a game, a new experience for 13-year veteran coach Shari Schau, in the seventh season of her second stint at Gulf.
“Usually my teams are always defensive. …We don’t give up many goals,” Schau said. “The problem was always, in the past, we didn’t score too many goals, only one or two a game. Sometimes that wasn’t enough, so it’s been a lot of fun to see us score so many.”
Part of the reason for the uptick in scoring is the arrival of five freshmen who have meshed well with the upperclassmen while bringing a renewed sense of energy to the team. Those freshmen — Brianna Rossi, Emilia Kalogiannis, Abby Cohen, Rachel Gardner, and Catie Greene — are fast, have club soccer experience and have helped transform a good Gulf team into a great one.
“The youthfulness and the get-up-and-go of the freshmen, I really think that picked up the juniors and seniors some,” Schau said. “…They’ve fit in well. They’re listening to the older girls. They’re learning from the older girls. I think the cohesiveness of this team is really good this year.”
The results are showing on the field. After rallying from a 4-1 deficit against Mitchell a year ago to tie the Mustangs for the first time in forever, a game that Schau says “was a breakthrough that gave the girls confidence,” the Bucs defeated their long-time nemesis and district rival by a goal before the Thanksgiving break.
“That was the first time we had beaten Mitchell in I don’t know how long,” Skelton said. “That made our whole season.”
Two days before the Mitchell win, the Bucs knocked off Hudson, another favorite in the district.
“Hudson, during the last six, seven years, they’ve been a very good team,” Schau said. “We’ve tied them a couple times during that period I think, but we hadn’t beaten them.”
Gulf opened the season with a 6-1 thrashing of Land O’Lakes, another team that, traditionally, the Bucs have had little success against.
“The girls’ confidence level is rising with every team that we haven’t beaten in the past,” Schau said.
Now in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the district tournament, the Bucs have even loftier goals.
“We would love to add a number to our banner and possibly get a district championship in there as well,” Schau said. “We’ve still got work to do, but these girls are really receptive to what the coaches are telling and showing them. …
“I’ve had some pretty good teams that I thought would get over that hump, but, absolutely, this is the best team I’ve ever had.”