When Everton Edwards first became Gulliver’s girls’ soccer coach four years ago, the message to his players was simple.
“We talked about taking it to the next level,” Edwards said. “I challenged them to be better, raise the level of expectations for themselves.”
This weekend, Gulliver finds itself one victory away from winning its second state championship in three seasons — something it had never achieved before Edwards’ arrival.
The Raiders (21-0-4) will take on Ocala Trinity Catholic at 8 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A state final at Melbourne High School.
Along with Lourdes, which will play Saturday in the Class 5A final against Oviedo at 4 p.m., Miami-Dade County will have two teams playing for state titles in the same season for the first time.
A victory for Gulliver would be its 98th in the past four seasons. Even more remarkable is the Raiders’ record during that span, a staggering 97-2-6 with no defeats in the regular season.
The Raiders have had their share of prolific scorers in that time. Two shattered the Dade single-season scoring record.
Dara Spital broke the record during the 2009-10 season, scoring 61 goals in the 2009-10 season, and Sara Darmanin topped it with 65 last season.
Gulliver hasn’t had that kind of high volume of individual scoring this season, and faced a bigger challenge.
Edwards has had to shift lineups constantly because of a high amount of injuries to key players.
“Since the Christmas break, I don’t think we’ve had the same starting 11 in more than two games in a row for one reason or another,” Edwards said.
“But we keep our practices all technical and all about game situations instead of running.”
The Raiders were down to 12 available players during last Friday’s state semifinal win over Palm Beach Benjamin.
Gulliver will face a couple of prolific scorers Friday against the Celtics (22-2), who are making their first state final appearance.
Senior Tabitha Tindell has 49 goals and 27 assists, and junior forward Alyssa Eashoo has 28 goals and 10 assists.
Edwards will get at least one of his key players back as Nicole Harris (14 goals, 16 assists) will be in the lineup, and Samantha Earle (20 goals, 13 assists) might return from an ankle injury.
“It’s been great to see as a coach how these girls just get on with it and keep working hard despite what they’ve been dealing with,” said Edwards, who coached for 26 years at FIU before being hired at Gulliver.