LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It was cool and breezy outside, but Hannah Howell's play was the direct opposite Thursday inside Thunder Stadium.
The Saint Stephen's senior scored six goals in a variety of ways to lead the Falcons (12-2-3) past Sarasota Christian 8-2 in a Class 1A-District 8 girls soccer semifinal.
It means Howell, who began playing varsity as an eighth-grader, will go for her fifth consecutive district championship on Friday at Out-of-Door Academy. The Falcons' opponent will be No. 2-seeded St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep, which downed host Out-of-Door Academy 4-2 in Thursday's other semifinal.
"I think what we're going to face (Friday) is they're going to put a lot more pressure on us and have a lot more speed than the teams we've been warming up on," Howell said. "And that's why we've been playing Lakewood Ranch and Braden River, to prepare us for those hard tackles that are inevitable (Friday)."
Howell's first goal came 36 seconds into the match when she dribbled past nearly every Sarasota Christian player before unleashing a scorching right-footed shot into the net.
Then Howell added the first of her two assists just eight minutes later when
senior Alexis Sedillo (two goals) scored.
Howell showcased her versatility, and the Blazers had no answer.
It didn't matter if Howell went with her right foot or left. It didn't matter if three SCS players marked her or she went one-on-one with a defender.
Howell's pace and skill were too much, and she found the net.
Time and time again.
"My favorite goal was when Hannah went down, played it across and Lexi put it away," Falcons head coach Eric Howell said.
Keying Howell's success was defender Kristi Jones' prowess along the back four.
The junior, whose normal position is in the midfield, has filled in at center back due to Saint Stephen's missing some players to injury.
However, she stifled several Blazer attacks in the final third with a strong presence in the middle of the defense that opened space for Howell and the forwards to operate the attack.
"She's really intense in stepping to the ball, which is the hard line that we need," Hannah Howell said. "We call her Stonewall sometimes. She doesn't let anyone past her."
Shorecrest used three first-half goals to defeat ODA and assure itself a berth in next week's regional round of the state tournament alongside Saint Stephen's.
Miller Condrack and Juliet Onufrak scored goals for the Thunder (12-4-1).
Head coach Dave Hawkes loses eight seniors off this year's squad, but returns eighth-grader Skylar Junger, who bagged 34 goals this season.
"It's hard," said Hawkes about overcoming a three-goal deficit at the break. "We put four up front, sacrifice the back, sacrifice the midfield. And those girls at the back were unreal (Thursday). But they've been playing like that all the time. We had a great season."