MELBOURNE -- A program that has become quite accustomed to success and state championships added another one to its trophy case on Friday night.
The Plantation American Heritage girls’ soccer team had a bigger challenge than usual in front of it. Taking on a revenge-minded Merritt Island team that had lost to them in each of the past two regional finals and had a large and noisy crowd behind it, the Patriots never blinked as they controlled most of the game and cruised to a 3-0 victory in the Class 3A state championship game at Eastern Florida State College.
And with that, Heritage, ranked No. 3 in the nation in the NCSAA poll, finished its season unbeaten at 29-0-1. And on the way, outscored its opponents from the district semifinals on by a combined 40-0, notched its eighth overall state championship, second in a row and fourth in the past six years. They trail only St. Thomas Aquinas for most state championships, and the Raiders can win their 13th by beating Vero Beach on Saturday evening.
“This never gets old. A great feeling and I’m really happy for the girls because they really worked hard,” Heritage coach Cindy Marcial said. “Everyone thinks you just step onto the field and put on an American Heritage shirt and you win, but it’s not that easy. It’s a lot of hard work. Once you start the playoffs, it’s eight more games, plus a lot of them play club and you have to try and constantly work to keep them sharp and motivated. The bar is set very high around here, and winning back-to-back is hard to do. I don’t care how much talent is on the field.”
After controlling virtually all of the first half with the ball in the Merritt Island end, the Patriots broke through with 26:15 left in the first half when Martha Thomas rifled a perfect pass to the left side for Melanie Monteagudo, who patiently dribbled her way closer to the net.
When Merritt Island keeper Jasmine McGowan committed to her right to meet Monteagudo, Broward county’s scoring leader this season with a county-record 61 goals made it No. 62 by left-footing a low ball just inside the right post.
“Mel’s goal was big,” Marcial said. “We always like to get one in quick if we can and get the lead.”
With just under 13 minutes left until halftime, it looked like the Patriots would make it 2-0 when Dejah Cason picked a Merritt Island defender clean of the ball on the right side, fired a perfect centering pass to Michaela Kopecki who was charging to the net and fired.
But McGowan dove to her right and made a spectacular horizontal save keeping it a one goal game.
In the game’s 55th minute, Heritage was awarded a corner kick and, with the wind blowing toward the net, Michaela Kopecki hooked a perfect shot. McGowan went up high but the ball glanced off her fingertips and into the net with 24:15 left.
“I knew once we were up by two, we were playing lock-down defense and had it nailed,” Kopecki said.
Monteagudo capped things off with just 90 seconds left when she scored her 63rd goal, a perfect hook shot off her left foot from 20 yards out into the top left corner of the net.
“Getting that first goal early was big,” Monteagudo said. “We knew coming in how loud their fans were going to be and were prepared for it and knew we’d need to get an early goal to quiet them down.
“This feeling never gets old. We’ve been in three of these in a row and the one you remember the most is the one you get beat in and that happened two years ago and we didn’t want it to happen again tonight.”