St. Thomas Aquinas senior midfielder Ashley Cardounel heard fans chanting, trying their best to distract her before a penalty kick in a shootout during last year’s Class 5A regional semifinals against Stoneman Douglas.
Cardounel focused on clearing everything in her head so that all she pictured was her and the goalkeeper.
“I think I always get nervous for those, but you have to remember it’s an easy shot, and if you think too much about it you might miss it,” said Cardounel, who took the fourth penalty kick and made it.
The Raiders and Eagles scored on the first five penalty kicks after a scoreless overtime. Each team’s goalie made a save on the sixth kick. When Douglas missed on its next shot, Aquinas’ Adriana Fontenot scored the game-winner in a 1-1 (6-5 PK) victory.
Douglas captain and center back Daniella Oleyek remembers giving her team the lead in the second half, only to see the Raiders respond on a defender’s gaffe that set up a penalty kick.
“Everyone was emotional, tired,” said Oleyek, who made the third Douglas penalty kick. “Our team was pretty confident because we’re pretty good at PKs, but it just didn’t work out for us.”
A year later, the nationally ranked Raiders (21-1-1) and Eagles (22-0) find themselves in a Class 5A regional semifinal rematch at 6 p.m. Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Douglas returned 13 players from last year’s team but just three of the seven chosen for penalty kicks in that game. The program, which won five state titles in a row from 2003 to ’07, last reached the state tournament in 2011 when it was in a higher classification than Aquinas.
“I think for the girls who were here and lost, I think they’re certainly motivated, and I think they’re going to share that motivation with the other girls,” Douglas coach Stu Katz said. “We lost on our home field where we felt we really had a team to win a state championship.”
Junior Liz-Amanda Gonzalez, who has 16 shutouts, transferred from Delray Beach American Heritage. Though she has never been in a penalty shootout in high school, she has in travel ball.
“I’m very confident about saving PKs,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a lot more pressure on the forward to make the decision than it is for the goalkeeper to actually react to it. You do have to have quick reactions but also read the body language of a player when she gets ready to kick.”
Following the regional semifinal win against Douglas last year, Aquinas went on to win the state championship for the second season in a row.
That young team constantly heard comparisons to the 2011 squad, one that earned the title of national champion and graduated 10 of 11 starters. Of the 2012 unit, all but three starters are back.
“They know the bumps and bruises and how much they have to improve to get better, and that’s something they’ve been working very hard [at] this year,” Raiders coach Carlos Giron said. “I think they know if they do their best they’ll be fine.”
Current Aquinas players take pride in the program’s legacy, which boasts a state-record 12 titles. Throughout the season, stars return from college to speak to the girls and offer words of wisdom and support.
“It’s a little bit daunting,” said senior outside midfielder Megan Pivacco, who connected on the third penalty kick in that shootout. “We know what we have to do, and we just get it done.”
The winner will host either Palm Beach Central or Boca Raton in the regional final Tuesday.