American Heritage senior defender Kiana Clarke vividly remembers Ponte Vedra’s game-tying goal in the 32nd minute of last year’s Class 3A state final in Tampa.
It followed what she calls a defensive mistake on an unnecessary foul that set up a free kick for Erica Burt. Her shot from the right sideline about 40 yards away would soar over goalkeeper Cristina Garwacki’s hands with a little help from the wind.
As the Heritage offense failed to finish on its 13 shots on goal — holding a 10-shot advantage over the Sharks — the game would eventually go into a pair of scoreless overtimes before Ponte Vedra won 4-1 in penalty kicks.
“If we had just played smarter we could’ve gone without two overtimes and PKs and would have come out victorious,” Clarke said. “But because of a small mistake, we basically lost the game and couldn’t get it back. All those small mistakes you really can’t make because it’s a championship game.”
One year later, the Patriots (24-2) will get their shot at revenge in a rematch against the Sharks on Saturday morning at Melbourne High School, hoping to claim their third state championship in five seasons.
More than half the girls return from last year’s squad, which lost five seniors and two others to injuries.
Before the season began, coach Cindy Marcial brought the team together to hammer down a point.
“They told us to remember the feeling of how it was last year to work all that season and end it that way,” said senior forward Alyssa Robinson, who had taken the third Heritage penalty kick. “We never want to feel like that again and work twice as hard to get back there and win it this time.”
Junior Jennifer Ocamo, who took over as the goalkeeper at halftime of the final last year, is part of a Heritage team that has allowed just six goals all season. Clarke and fellow senior defender Victoria Lares provide veteran leadership to the middle of the field.
Though the Patriots have outscored their opponents 33-0 over six postseason games, Clarke and Ocamo expect a close match for the title.
“We may not have had the best season — we lost twice — but I think that may have helped us turn our season around because we realized it wouldn’t be that easy,” Ocamo said.
On offense, Robinson and sophomore forward Melanie Monteagudo have scored 27 goals on the season, leading an attack that focuses on controlling possession before pushing the ball up.
When Robinson steps into the midfield circle on Saturday, she said it will be hard not to notice the familiar opponent’s name.
“It’s not just a game for us,” Robinson said. “We know it’s a big game. We’re going to work just as hard as we did for the other games, but this one’s just going to mean a little bit more to us and push us harder.”