Friday’s bus ride to Melbourne is just a two-hour trip for the Pembroke Pines Charter girls’ soccer team. But, in a way, it’s a journey 12 years in the making.
The school opened a dozen years ago, and soccer failed to gain much traction until coach Carlos Velasquez was hired for the 2007-08 season.
“We were low in talent,” Velasquez said of that first season. “None of the girls had played travel ball. We had maybe 15 on the varsity roster, and we didn’t make any cuts.”
This year, Pines Charter had 65 girls try out, and 20 were selected for varsity and 20 for the JV.
“It’s extremely satisfying to see the hard work the girls have put in to improve the program,” Velasquez said.
That hard work has led Pines Charter (19-5-1) to the state semifinals for the first time in school history; they will face Fleming Island (20-1-2) 10 a.m. Friday. The other Class 4A semifinal, set for 11:30 a.m., will match Bradenton’s Lakewood Ranch against Melbourne.
The final is 3 p.m. Saturday.
Melbourne is the defending state champion and also gets to play at home. None of the other semifinalists have ever won a state title.
Pines Charter outscored its regional opponents 10-1, but had to survive a 2-1 overtime game against West Palm Beach Dwyer in the regional final.
Senior captain Mya Goodman scored the game-winner from 20 yards after the Dwyer goalie blocked the original attempt.
“Mya reads the field so well,” Velasquez said of Goodman, who leads the team with 20 goals and 27 assists. “She’s like a quarterback in the way she finds teammates — very aware. She’s the best center midfielder we’ve ever had.”
Velasquez said Pines Charter wouldn’t have beaten Dwyer if not for the standout performance by junior goalie Patricia Yordan, who made some “incredible” saves.
“She is not timid,” he said. “She comes out of her net very aggressively.”
Pines Charter, which reached the regional semifinals in its two previous playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011, has three other seniors besides Goodman: defenders Victoria Pineda and Arianna Schmid and midfielder Amy Etchechurry, who has 13 goals and eight assists.
Those veterans will look to deny a Fleming Island team that has been resilient in reaching the state semifinals for the fifth time since 2006.
In the regional semifinals, Fleming rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. In the regional finals, Fleming gave up a tying goal with 10 seconds left in regulation before winning in overtime.
Velasquez wouldn’t be surprised if Fleming were rated a favorite.
“We’re not the biggest or fastest team,” he said. “Our strength is possessing the ball. That’s how we will try to win.”
Two of South Florida’s most productive wide receivers are heading out of state.
George Rushing announced his commitment to Wisconsin, with teammate Trevon Lee taking his talents to Duke. Both Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons standouts made their decisions public on WQAM 560 on Monday night.
Rushing, rated a three-star receiver by multiple media outlets, has had a hectic start to 2014 to say the least. He previously was committed to Louisville since May 2013, but Charlie Strong’s departure to take the head coaching position at Texas left Rushing looking for another school since withdrawing his pledge on Jan. 8. He picked Wisconsin over TCU.
Lee, who was tied for 15th among Miami-Dade and Broward County players last season with 741 receiving yards, made his decision after his official visit to Duke this past weekend. Vanderbilt was also in the running.
Also, Miramar quarterback Nick Jeanty will head to New Mexico State.