The best player on the pitch was stymied with a stout defensive effort.
So Lakewood Ranch High School’s girls soccer team turned to two others for the decisive blow in Friday’s Class 5A-District 8 championship match.
The Mustangs peeled off a 2-1 victory over Sarasota Riverview when Faith Schyck cleaned up a loose ball delivered from sophomore Hajar Benjoud’s corner in the closing minutes of the first extra time period.
Securing the program’s 13th district championship means a home match in Thursday’s region quarterfinals against Tampa Plant, who lost 5-0 to Palm Harbor University in the 5A-7 championship.
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“A lot tougher than I was expecting,” Lakewood Ranch head coach Guy Virgilio said. “I knew they were going to come at us, and they always did. We always have a great game against them. They pressure us and like I told the girls: ‘This is going to be one of those games where the momentum is going to shift and things are going to happen. We just need to hang in there.’”
Despite not expecting a tight match, Virgilio’s group got precisely that after Riverview clamped down its defense. The Rams registered just one shot on goal, and it was a backbreaker.
The Mustangs (16-2-1) led 1-0 on a goal from Benjoud about 13 minutes from time. But Riverview found a slight opening two minutes from the end of the match, which Natalie Oliver capitalized on.
In the dying seconds, Schyck had a golden chance to end it in regulation when Gi Krstec, who is heading to Division I soccer at Maryland next year, found some space in an otherwise difficult night of double-teams to supply a through ball.
Schyck, though, skied her shot over the crossbar, and the teams headed to sudden-death. Schyck wasn’t deterred from that miss and provided the winner seconds from the end of the first extra time period off Benjoud’s cross.
“Everytime (she) takes a corner, I try to lay back into the back post,” Schyck said. “So that I can run in and try to head it. In this case, it was in the spot that I thought it was going to be. There were three girls there ... I headed it, but I think I smacked the other girl’s head with my head and it just dropped in front of me. And I volleyed it.”
The key to shutting down the Mustangs on Friday rested with Riverview’s back four, and, in particular, limiting Krstec.
Rams head coach Fahd El Farissi received a standout job from his defenders to rattle Lakewood Ranch from its usually potent attacking game by double-teaming the playmaking Krstec time and again.
“We had to play the man-to-man, so it was a technique that we had to follow,” El Farissi said. “Basically, follow the basics. We played them before and they gave us (a) hard time, so we had to do something different.”
Despite the steady dose of defending, Riverview also got a little help from the crossbar as Lakewood Ranch had two shots zing off the bar during the 80 regulation minutes. Those two efforts, one from Maria Gonzalez and the other Madison Mirandilla, were just a couple inches from making it a one-sided outcome long before extra time entered the picture.
But sudden-death did come, and Schyck cashed in on her chance to win it for the Mustangs.
The victory meant even more, because the players surprised Virgilio with headbands to wear during the match.
It shows what kind athletes, what kind of people I am dealing with. And that's one of the things over the years that I've been very proud of. These girls, other than the fact that they're great athletes, they're phenomenal people.
Lakewood Ranch girls soccer coach Guy Virgilio on his team surprising him with headbands in honor of his wife that’s battling cancer
They had the initials, “P.V.,” on them in reference to Virgilio’s wife, Patty, who has battled various forms of cancer for the last eight years.
“She’s had 45, 46 rounds of chemo and she’s been my idol,” Virgilio said. “She’s been fighting. ... The girls, over the years, they’ve known what’s been going on. And that was an emotional moment for me, because I thought that was kind of neat. ... I didn’t know anything about it. ... It shows what kind athletes, what kind of people I am dealing with.”