It’s rare for a coach to look at his team and not find a single weakness, but that’s how Lourdes Academy’s Ray Walden views this season’s Bobcats.
Lourdes returns eight starters — including all four defenders, two goalies who share time and its top scorer — from a team that went 19-2-1 and advanced to the 2012 Class 5A regional finals.
“If I had to coach against us and look for a weakness, I couldn’t find one,” insists Walden, who is in his 17th season coaching Lourdes. “There’s no one to exploit.”
Bailey Plummer, a 5-8 senior forward who scored 39 goals last season and made first-team All-Dade, agrees with her coach’s assessment.
But Plummer also said she and her teammates learned a valuable lesson last season when they were eliminated by Cypress Bay, 2-1, on a goal scored with three seconds left in regulation.
“We can’t lose focus, not even for a second,” said Plummer, who has a 4.3 grade-point average and is interested in studying engineering and playing soccer at Division III Emory University. “Every opportunity matters. Even as the clock winds down, we can’t lose our concentration.”
Making sure the Bobcats don’t get distracted are senior defenders Nicole Perez, Cristina Rodriguez-Garcia and Lori Rodriguez, along with junior defender Caro Perez, who is Nicole’s sister.
Those four are entering their third year as the starting defenders, which is rare continuity for a high school team.
They will protect a pair of junior goalies, Jenny Herold and Alejandra Diaz. Plummer said Herold is a master at making the routine plays without ever slipping, and Diaz’s forte is the spectacular stop.
Walden, who started Herold during last season’s postseason run, has confidence in both.
“They both make good decisions, and they position themselves well,” the coach said. “It’s a luxury to have two starting-caliber goalies.”
Lourdes’ midfield is slightly unsettled for the moment because senior Sophia Rosell, who made second-team All-Dade last season, recently spent 10 days in the hospital after fluid was discovered in her lungs.
Walden is hoping she can return to the lineup within a month, but the Bobcats do have another top midfielder in sophomore Cristina Hoynack.
The Bobcats, who made it to the state semifinals in 2006, 2007 and 2010, have never reached the title game.
But they may be Dade’s best threat to win state this year, especially given the fact that Gulliver Prep lost 10 seniors off last season’s team. Coach Everton Edwards, who led Gulliver to a state Class 3A title in 2011, said his Raiders are “rebuilding.”
Still, even if Lourdes is Dade’s best team this season, the county’s history in girls’ soccer is not stellar — just four state titles in 31 years of competition. No Dade team has won more than one title.
In contrast, Broward has the two most dominant programs in state history — Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas with a record 11 titles and Plantation American Heritage with six. In addition, Douglas has five titles, which is tied for third.
To help Lourdes get past teams of that caliber, Walden has scheduled games against Gulliver (Nov. 16), Douglas (Dec. 7) and American Heritage (Jan. 8).
South Dade and Palmetto, two teams Lourdes beat in the regionals last season, are also on the schedule.
“We have the ability to play with any team in the state,” Walden said. “We’re hoping our schedule will prepare us for the playoffs.”