After serving as a thorn in the side of the defense for the Miami Country Day girls’ soccer team for most of the afternoon, Bri Folds finally delivered the knockout punch.
With just over 18 minutes left in Wednesday afternoon’s Class 1A state semifinal and the game tied, the Lakeland Christian forward again beat the Spartans defense down the left side.
Only this time, Country Day defenders didn’t get there in time, as she got loose again on a breakaway down the left side but was fouled inside the penalty box.
A moment later, Folds converted the penalty kick that proved to be the game-decider as Lakeland Christian dealt a 2-1 loss to the Spartans at Eastern Florida State College.
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Lakeland Christian (19-1-2) moves on to its second consecutive 1A state title game and will take on three-time defending state champion Orange Park St. Johns Country Day on Thursday afternoon.
“We knew, they had three really good players, [Folds] along with number eight [Mary Peace] and number 11 [Carly Knox], so we kind of knew the game plan going in and tried to get all of them marked up,” Country Day coach Kyllene Carter-Weiss said.
“But, unfortunately, she just got through one too many times on us, and then we got a foul call that gave them the PK.”
With loud and noisy support from a large contingent of students, many with their faces decked out in red paint, the Country Day girls were making their first appearance at the state final four and suffered from no symptoms of stage fright that often can accompany teams making their state debut.
Even when Peace, the daughter of former Florida Gators quarterback Wayne Peace, scored in the game’s 12th minute to give her team an early 1-0 lead, the Spartans didn’t flinch.
Just three minutes later, they answered with the equalizer when Amanda Martin drilled a perfect corner kick in front of the net that freshman Yakira Matisonn got a clean head on and knocked it into the top-left corner of the net.
“A lot of times at practice we focus on going through different kinds of corner kicks,” Matisonn said.
“That particular play we called was where we have three people that stay at the top of the box, and we make different runs to the front middle and back. The idea is for the person crossing it to give it anywhere between the back post player and the middle player, and fortunately it found me, and I was able to get a head on it. That was an important goal because it was just a few minutes after they had taken the lead on us, and we needed to answer back right away to get ourselves back in the game.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t prove to be enough as Country Day, which finished 24-4, continued to battle in the second half but could not penetrate an effective Lakeland Christian defense that didn’t allow any real quality chances for the Spartans. But the team, which has just four seniors and 10 players in either eighth or ninth grade, remained optimistic about the future.
Even after falling behind and still having 18 minutes to even the game, MCD struggled to get any offensive penetration before the final whistle blew.
But on a team that has just four seniors and 10 players in either eighth or ninth grade, that didn’t dampen the spirits of either Carter-Weiss or Matisonn, who is optimistic about the future.
“They gave it everything they have, and I feel great about this program,” Carter-Weiss said.
“Not only are we young but in fact we have a great middle school program, and I’m getting fed some great players so I think there are even greater days ahead for MCD soccer,” Carter-Weiss said.
“We made history this season getting to state for the first time,” Matisonn said. “Obviously, we had aspirations for bigger things coming up here this week, but we’re young and will work hard to get back up here again and bring the big trophy home.”