High School Sports

Girls soccer | Defense stands tall as Manatee wins second straight district title

BRADENTON -- After watching his team capture its second straight district title, Manatee High girls soccer coach George Ameres inherited a problem he gladly accepts.

It's sort of like the one Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer takes into the offseason after winning a national championship.

When the regular season ended, Manatee starting goalkeeper Ashleigh Parker was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Freshman Emma Moneuse, who played sparingly all season, was put into the net.

She turned in a stellar performance Friday night in helping the host Hurricanes earn a 2-1 victory over St. Petersburg for the Class 5A-District 8 crown.

Parker is expected to be back for Thursday's region quarterfinal, and Ameres said he is not sure who is going to be his starting goalie.

"I don't know. Emma made a strong case for herself, so, to be honest, I've got a good problem on my hands," Ameres said. "To come up as big time as she did tonight, that was outstanding. She had five great saves with three in the second half."

Whoever starts will be the benefactor of solid defensive play. Led by senior center-back Becca Byrnes and Kyra Himes, the defense saved the game for Manatee (13-1-3) in the last 10 minutes when St. Petersburg started bombarding the nets.

"Becca, our captain, stood out for us, but we also played Kyra in a defensive midfielder role, and she was the key to our defense. She did not let them turn and get the ball up to their fast strikers," Ameres said.

St. Petersburg made a switch, pulling its goalkeeper because of her strong leg and put her at midfield, hoping to get the ball to her fast strikers. It changed the complexion of the match in the last 10 minutes.

"The pressure you feel back there, it soars. You feel intense and that every single thing is coming towards you so you just have to feel calm so you don't freak out," Byrnes said. "We just didn't want them to have time to take a shot on goal. Emma has so much skill I feel confident with her back there."

Manatee missed eight shots on goal in the first half before Meredith Roberts connected with an assist from Jessica Schafer with a minute to go before intermission.

St. Petersburg (10-4-3) tied the score with 28:30 remaining in the match. But Roberts scored again on a difficult shot from the center of the field, with an assist from Tyler Einsmann, with 28:20 remaining to get her fourth goal in the last two games.

Until last season, Manatee had not won a girls district soccer district championship since 1999.

"This year's title means more to me. I don't think Manatee High girls soccer has ever won two (championships) in a row, so we are definitely making history," Byrnes said.

Manatee finished with 18 shots on goal. The Hurricanes will face the runner up from 5A-District 7 at home on Jan. 22. Palm Harbor University and East Lake will meet in the 5A-7 final on Saturday.

"It feels awesome to win a district championship. I've been under attack lots of times since I've been playing soccer. You just try to stay focused," Moneuse said.