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.
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“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.”
Before we even get to the cruise ship, there were other tales of “overcoming obstacles” for Springs/VG.
Dates leading up the Region Cup competition were severely disrupted by games that conflicted with high school entrance tests.
“We had to play a part of one game with just 10 players on the field before others arrived after their test,” said team manager Jorge Santin, father of Karina.
Then came the Region Cup semifinal contest against Plantation.
All six girls who got accepted at different schools now had to take a placement test at two different schools, Lourdes and La Salle,” said Santin, whose daughter was one of the three La Salle girls. “The three from Lourdes couldn’t make it at all, but we had a shot at getting my daughter and the other two girls from the La Salle exam there for the second half.”
Arrive they did and, trailing Plantation 1-0 at halftime, rallied for two goals in the second half to win it 2-1 and advance to the title game against Cutler Ridge. Who scored the two goals? Karina Santin.
All done with conflicts? Not a chance.
Blessed Trinity’s Annual 8th Grade Cruise Ship Fashion Show was the next day, a commitment Karina Santin, Bermudez and Diaz simply could not get out of.
“We had a pretty good shot at getting them to the park for the second half as long as everything ran on time with the port authority,” said Jorge Santin. “Of course, what happens, the Port Authority are the ones in charge and the thing runs an hour late and we’re thinking, ‘This just isn’t meant to be.’ ”
But, for a change, the Springs/VG girls caught a break. Thanks to some delays from previous games and weather issues, the title game got pushed back.
“It was wild, like a scene right out of ‘Mission Impossible,’ ” said Santin. “Here we are literally running through the terminal, girls in high heels with a car waiting for us at the entrance to zip us off to the park. Somehow we managed to get there after the second half had started and got them out on the field, still wearing their makeup.”
Of course, then Santin watches his daughter go down with the shoulder injury and it’s back to staring at the sky and cursing the soccer gods again.
Days later, the gods went back to smiling again when news came that Karina’s injury, feared to be a separated shoulder, was only a deep contusion and she will be ready to go against Cape Coral on Saturday.
But perhaps the best news for Mats and everyone close to the team is, believe it or not, there will be no cruises or entrance exams this Saturday. Everyone is headed to Auburndale and the Springs/VG team will be at full strength.
“We’re excited and looking forward to the challenge,” said Mats. “These other three teams are very good, but with what these girls have overcome, anything is possible at this point.”