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Shorecrest girls run into a state soccer juggernaut

St. Johns Country Day wins a whopping ninth straight state championship.
Shorecrest players hug, cry and console each other after losing to Orange Park St. Johns Country Day in the Class 2A title game at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Special to the Times]

DELAND — Even the most impressive accomplishments have taken on an air of inevitability.

Of course St. Johns Country Day has dominated state competition in girls soccer. Of course the Spartans have been ranked among the top 10 in Florida — and the nation — throughout the season. Of course they were the overwhelming favorite to win another state title.

Should anyone be surprised? St. Johns Country Day, a small, private school in Orange Park, is a soccer juggernaut, a program so clearly superior at its level of competition that few opponents can muster a competitive game, much less the threat of victory.

This was the challenge Shorecrest faced in Wednesday’s Class 2A championship game.

The Chargers went on a charmed run through the playoffs, winning four straight games by multiple goals each while giving up just one total to reach the final for the first time in school history. But they were up against a team that was after more than a state championship.

Shorecrest's Kaja Dionne, left, pushes the ball up the field against St. Johns Country Day's Hannah Lemieux. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Special to the Times]

The Spartans were trying to further cement their latest run as the greatest dynasty in state history. St. Johns Country Day entered Wednesday’s final having won eight straight titles, the longest streak of any program in state history.

Another one would not only give them nine straight but make it 12 overall, the second-most in state history and just three from tying powerhouse Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas at the top of the list.

The Spartans accomplished what they wanted, cruising to a 4-0 victory.

“There was Goliath talk,” Shorecrest coach Neal Wolfrath said. “Obviously it was going to be tough. I mean, it’s the state final. They’re all tough. To many it was probably a foregone conclusion. We didn’t have that mindset. It was a tall task, and it just came down to a matter of executing.”

It took less than two minutes for St. Johns Country Day (24-1) to seize control. Hannah Lemieux scored a minute, 36 seconds into the match to make it 1-0. That lead was practically insurmountable. After all, the Spartans have given up just two goals combined in their previous eight championships.

And forget about the playoffs. It is difficult to beat St. Johns Country Day at any point in the season. The program’s record during this nine-year run: 204-5-4.

Shorecrest's Christina Steffens (7) takes control of the ball against Orange Park St. Johns Country Day High School. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Special to the Times]

Much of that has to do with a defense that uses its speed to suffocate opponents. The Chargers (14-4-2) had averaged four goals per game during the playoffs but were unable to get past midfield often, much less attempt too many shots.

“(The Spartans’) level of effort and skill was definitely better than any team we’ve played this season,” said Shorecrest senior Christina Steffens, who finished second on the team in goals this season with 12. “We weren’t really expecting that. We knew they were good but it was quite a shift from the teams we’ve played that were slower in pace to one that is challenging every single ball.”

St. Johns Country Day kept adding to its lead. Paige Crews scored her 11th goal of the season to make it 2-0 at the half. Mia Sadler and Lauryn Mateo added goals in the second half to round out the scoring.

After the medals were handed out and the runnerup trophy was presented, the Chargers headed to the sideline to pick up their belongings. There were hugs but few tears.

Just getting to Deland’s Spec Martin Stadium, to play on the sport’s biggest stage, was satisfying enough.

“This season was really life-changing for me,” Steffens said. “It showed me how important teamwork is. The way we played together and supported each other was incredible and that’s why we made it this far. I’ve played since my eighth grade year and we haven’t even been close to getting this far before. It’s going to be a turning point for Shorecrest girls soccer.”

St. Johns Country Day players celebrate their second goal of the match against Shorecrest. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Special to the Times]