High School Sports

Freshmen have had big impact on Mustangs

Katherine Somodi said her coach, Guy Virgilio, calls it "freshman-itis." Loosely translated, it's the uncertainty first-year high school players struggle with on and off the field. It's the inconsistency of their play and their lapses in concentration.

These things can really only be overcome with age, experience and maturity.

But in the interim, Virgilio and the rest of the Lakewood Ranch soccer team still like what they see from one of the best freshmen corps of players in school history.

Though none of them are finished products, Kristen Hagaman, Kaitlyn Kerrigan, Somodi, Christina Latham, Rachel Wojcicki, Kaleigh Chaffee and Jamie Mineart have all made an impact this season. They are less than one year removed from playing for the Braden River Soccer Club team, and now the girls are trying to help continue the expanding tradition of excellence the Mustangs have built in recent seasons.

"I think it's a big advantage because we know how each other works," said Latham, a forward, of playing with the same girls she was teammates with during club soccer. "We can read each other better than some of the other girls can because we played with each other before."

The last time a Lakewood Ranch girls soccer team didn't win a district title, the freshmen weren't even in middle school. They see the challenge of adding a fourth straight title and carrying the streak beyond that as a challenge they want to take on.

The players agreed the only time they feel like freshmen is when they have to pick up the loose soccer balls strewn across the practice field following a workout.

"Of course you are going to be nervous about the seniors and juniors and how they are going to react to you," Kerrigan said. "But it's been a great year because (the older) players tell you what you are doing wrong, and they help you and guide you through. They'll answer any question, and they are great on the field telling you your options."

Hagaman has been one of the top Mustangs defenders from the start of the season and hardly ever leaves the field. She remembers walking across the parking lot after Braden River Soccer Club practice to watch the Mustangs play and dreaming of being on the team. The Mustangs' newcomers talked about what an honor it is to play for what has, in recent years, turned into the best girls soccer team in the county.

"I was terrified my first game, and I'm not one to be nervous, but after a while it just worked out of (me)," said Hagaman, whose brother played soccer at Lakewood Ranch and graduated five years ago. "When I'm on the field, I don't feel like a freshman. I feel like a player. I don't have to worry about my age."

Kerrigan played significant minutes early on but has worked her way into the starting lineup. She was the latest to join the seven-player group after moving to the area from Indiana.

Chaffee is a bit of an unknown because she missed most of the season with an injury. Virgilio said she has plenty of talent, but he's not sure where she fits best coming off the injury. He's trying to work her into the rotation, though the postseason isn't necessarily the most opportune time to be doing so.

Wojcicki has also started and been a key addition. Hagaman and Wojcicki were two of seven BRSC players selected to represent their club on the Florida Olympic Development (ODP) team. Mineart, whose sister, Kelly, was one of the Mustangs' top players last year, is a key reserve.

Somodi has become the full-time goalkeeper after an injury forced Rachel Valari to the sidelines. Somodi was splitting time early on but has responded well since taking on a more regular role.

"I have an opportunity, but I wish I would have deserved it and not just got it," Somodi said. "There was a game I didn't get to play at all, and that made me realize I had to step it up."

As coaches must, Virgilio pointed out these girls are only freshmen. Some have adjusted to high school ball better than others. He holds the program's past success over their heads as motivation.

But Virgilio couldn't help but smile when asked about the future.

"How could you not be excited?" he asked. "We have players on the bench right now . . . that would be starting at some other schools. They all have something they can contribute, and they all have something they can improve on. But I'm excited. Every year it seems like I start out wondering what next year will bring, and it always seems to bring more athletes. I'm fortunate."

Asked what the freshmen girls want to accomplish before they graduate, Latham chimed in.

"I wanna see us win a regional, at least one," said Latham of something the Mustangs still haven't done yet.

Their first chance comes this year, but before that they must this week defend the district title. Youthful enthusiasm keeps the girls from getting tired as the season enters its final month.

"We haven't had a break since middle school," Hagaman said. "But I love it. I'd rather not have a break. Soccer is my life."