The best season in Strawberry Crest’s girls soccer history just got better.
Monday night’s 6A-District 11 finale at Tampa Bay Tech saw the Chargers pull off a comeback against a Plant City team that refused to go down without a fight. It took overtime to get that 3-1 win but, for the program, all the stress of the game was worth it when the girls got to touch that trophy.
“The girls have worked hard all year,” head coach Sean Woodhouse said. “If you had asked at the beginning of the year, no one would have picked us to be in the finals. No one would have picked us to be the number one seed. Credit to the girls, they worked hard all year.”
Plant City came out strong in the first half on both sides of the field. The Raiders took an early 1-0 lead thanks to the foot of leading scorer Taylyn Strickland, who has now scored 20 goals in 14 games. Though the Chargers were able to break into PCHS territory for much of the half, goalkeeper Kathryn Hahn and the back line weathered a storm of shots on goal and kept the Raiders comfortable enough in front.
The Chargers weren’t able to catch a break until a little more than halfway through the second half, when Ashley Parow cleaned up a loose ball on a Kali Vician corner kick Hahn was able to get a piece of. Plant City and Crest played to a dead heat for the remaining 19 minutes of regulation, setting up overtime and ramping up the stress in the air at Tampa Bay Tech.
Overtime picked up right where the second half left off, but Vician turned the tides of the game for good by scoring on a penalty kick just before the end of the first period. Crest got an insurance goal in the second overtime period when freshman Ezra Carpenter beat Hahn to a ball shortly after the senior keeper played a high ball sent her way by Vician, and that 3-1 score held for the remaining four minutes.
“We got fired up once we got our first goal,” Vician said. “We started working better together. In the middle, me and Andrea and Avery, we were just unstoppable. From there, the team really nailed it.”
Getting to this game was a huge achievement for both teams, which started the season with new head coaches. Woodhouse took over for longtime head coach Ebony Robinson and, keeping the system consistent with what Robinson had installed, led the Chargers to their first-ever 10-win season. It was also the second season in school history with more wins than combined losses and ties (the first being last season). Cindy Burmann replaced Brooke Bennett this year and the Raiders improved from a 6-7-1 record in 2018-19 to this year’s 8-5-2 record, fielded an offense that scored 12 more goals than in 2018-19 and made it all the way to a district championship game despite being unable to use their home field for just about all of the season.
The Raiders and Raider Nation shouldn’t treat this game as the end of their season, though: the FHSAA’s new postseason ranking system with MaxPreps doesn’t guarantee district runners-up a regional tournament berth as the old one did, but the Raiders are still mathematically alive and could end up making the cut for regionals when the final rankings are announced on Feb. 9.
Meanwhile, the Chargers will play the waiting game to find out who they’ll host in the 6A-Region 3 quarterfinal on Feb. 11. They may not all have thought early in the season that they’d be at this point in February, but the new district champs are ready for the next challenge — whatever that may be.
“I was worried going into this season,” Vician said. “I didn’t know what this season was gonna hold. And then we came out with this, and I couldn’t be prouder of my team. These girls have been my best friends.”