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Youth movement pushes Land O’ Lakes girls to state soccer semis

The Gators continue their assault on goal, scoring at least six goals for the fifth time in the past six games.
The Land O' Lakes girls soccer team advances to the Class 5A state semifinals on Tuesday after beating Lakes Wales 7-2. (BOB PUTNAM | TIMES) [BOB PUTNAM | Times]

LAND O’ LAKES ― With a roster that includes just two seniors, Land O’ Lakes did not seem to have the experience required to make a deep run in the Class 5A girls soccer postseason bracket.

But the Gators and their young lineup continued to defy odds, winning game after game with lopsided results.

On Tuesday, they remained dominant, beating Lakes Wales 7-2 in the region final. It is the fourth time in the past six seasons Land O’ Lakes has made the state semifinals.

Vicky King has been there for all of them. The only coach the Gators have ever known still is patrolling the sideline, only now as a volunteer assistant.

The change is only temporary.

King was in the deferred retirement option program (DROP) the past three years and officially retired in August. Because of that, she has to spend a year as an unpaid assistant before resuming her role as the longtime coach.

Jen Craven, the athletic director at Pine View Middle School who spent the past five seasons as King’s assistant, took over the lead role, even though it is only for a season. Craven played for King at the club level before returning to coach with her.

“It’s been like a family, and this seemed like somewhat of a natural succession,” Craven said. “No nerves taking over because I knew I had a great support system here, especially with Vicky still on the sideline.”

It did not take long for the Gators (16-5-1) to take control in Tuesday’s region final. Jordan Green, a freshman, scored twice, and junior Annika Richardson and senior Avery Wild added goals to give Land O’ Lakes a 4-0 lead.

The Highlanders (13-6-1) made a brief run late in the first half with goals by Chanley Pfingston and Delaney Elder.

In the second half, the Gators broke it open. Green and Richardson each scored again, and Jordyn Keen had a goal. It was the fifth time in the past six games that Land O’ Lakes has scored six or more goals.

“We’re so young, so this has been pretty amazing,” Craven said.

State girls soccer semifinals

All games at 7 p.m. Friday unless noted.

7A: No. 1 Plant at No. 1 Bartram Trail

5A: No. 1 Land O’ Lakes at No. 1 Ponte Vedra

2A: No. 1 Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy at No. 1 Shorecrest