Adversity can come in many different ways, from scheduling conflicts, to injuries to just plain lousy bounces and breaks.
But if you were a member of the Miami Springs/Virginia Gardens Under-14 girls soccer team competing in last week’s Region Cup at Pine Island Park in Plantation, adversity didn’t discriminate. It came in just about every way imaginable.
So when the Springs/VG girls hoisted their first-place trophy and wrapped medals around their neck following a dramatic 2-1 overtime, penalty-kick shootout win over Cutler Ridge in the March 23 championship game, one could only imagine the feeling of euphoria.
In a remarkable journey that presented more obstacles than anyone could imagine along the way, the Springs/VG girls were champs in what was a major watershed event for girls soccer in the area. It marked the first-ever championship in Region Cup competition for a local team.
“Just a terrific effort by the girls and I’m really proud of them,” said head coach Felix Mats, who is also the head boys soccer coach at St. Thomas University. “When you have to play short-handed, which we did many times, other girls have to step up and perform, and that’s what they did.”
And the reward for the girls is a nice one as they are headed four hours north to the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale, Fla., this Saturday and Sunday, April 6-7 to compete in the President’s Cup Region III Final Four.
Springs/VG, the Region A champion, will take on Region C winner Cape Coral on Saturday at 11 a.m. South Brevard (from Palm Bay, Fla.) will square off against Florida Gulf Coast (Tallahassee area) in the other semifinal.
The two winners will meet on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. for the state championship and a chance to represent Florida in the Region III Championships in Decatur, Ala., in early June.
Playing short-handed with three girls trying to get to the park waiting to debark off a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale (we’ll get to that), the locals trailed Cutler Ridge 1-0 at halftime. Then the three girls — Karina Santin, Karina Bermudez and Daniella Diaz — arrived and not a moment too soon. Soon after they took the field, still wearing makeup from the cruise, Francis Herrera took a nice pass down low from Alyssa Deno and knocked it home to tie the game at 1.
The next obstacle came late in regulation when Santin, one of the team’s top players, took a nasty fall, severely injured her left shoulder and was done for the day.
Springs/VG battled on without her and when neither team could score in the first or second overtime, the game went to penalty kicks.
And even the five rounds of PKs couldn’t decide it as the teams were still tied. The teams were at their ninth attempt when Springs/VG keeper Briana Gomez, who had to deal with a severe knee injury at the start of the season, came through with a clutch stop of a Cutler Ridge shot. She herself then stepped up in the bottom half of the frame and found the back of the net to send the Springs/VG girls into a wild celebration.
“The girls were really determined and Briana was amazing,” said Mats. “She really came through in a big way but unless everyone steps up at different times along the way, she probably never even has the opportunity to come through in that big moment.”