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Opportunity is here for Mustangs

Kristen Hagaman has the right idea.

A regional championship girls soccer game is heading to Lakewood Ranch for the first time tonight, and Hagaman, a senior co-captain, is excited.

Who wouldn’t be, right? History knocks every so often — this is just the second time for the Mustangs, who host Naples Barron Collier at 7 p.m. after playing for a regional title at Palm Harbor University in ’06 — and you have to embrace the possibilities.

The possibility is this: Win tonight, and the Mustangs head to the final four.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Hagaman said.

It would be understandable if Hagaman and her teammates were content with what they have done this spring. Face it — the team is 18-0-2, rolled to another district championship and landed in the regional tournament, the Mustangs annual destination every year since 2001.

But they’re not.

“It’s kind of been a miracle season, to go undefeated and go as far as we have,” Hagaman said Wednesday after she signed a letter of intent with Division I Mercer University. “But I think everyone’s mentality is this isn’t going to be it. We want to win (tonight) and then we’re going to go on. So we’re going to give it our all and see what happens.”

Teams have a tendency to get dwarfed by the moment, to dwell on what could possibly go wrong — losing and starting from zero next year — and not enough on what can go right, and all the rewards that come with it.

This doesn’t happen all the time. For all the great players who have worn Lakewood Ranch soccer jerseys over the years, this is just the second time the program has reached a regional final. This isn’t a knock on the past teams, but rather a credit to the current one, which is clearly in the midst of something special.

The Mustangs are on the cusp of their ultimate goal and should be approaching tonight with that in mind. The challenge is a big one — Barron Collier has won nine district titles in 11 years and defeated previously undefeated Cape Coral Ida Baker to get here.

And the program hasn’t been to a state final since 1998, so the hunger is there, too.

“There’s always a little bit of jitters,” Hagaman said. “But I think now, we know we can do it. So now there’s excitement, and we just can’t wait for (Friday).”

Tonight is here. Opportunity is here. And Lakewood Ranch is hosting a regional championship game for the first time, hoping to become the second public school in as many years to reach the soccer state final after Palmetto’s boys did it last year.

Hagaman and her teammates have the right idea.

All they need now is the right result.

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