After getting beaten soundly by them two years ago in the state championship game, the Palmer Trinity girls’ soccer team was hoping Wednesday morning’s Class 1A state semifinal against nationally ranked Orange Park St. Johns Country Day might have a different outcome.
But the Falcons found out very quickly that when you’re facing one of the Mount Rushmore of girls’ soccer in Florida, that was never going to be the case.
St. Johns Country Day, sporting a stacked résumé that brings with it five state championships, including the past two years, a 45-game unbeaten streak, its 10th appearance in the state final four in the past 11 years and a No. 6 national ranking by Max Preps, scored very early and very often and cruised to a 7-0 victory at Eastern Florida College.
St. Johns will take on Lakeland Christian, a 2-1 double-overtime winner over St. Pete Shorecrest Prep in the other semifinal, in the 1A title game on Thursday at 3 p.m.
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The Spartans (22-0-3), who won the coin toss and enjoyed a significant advantage with a 20-mph wind at their back, scored just one minute into the game when Abbey Newton connected from the right side and then made it 2-0 just three minutes later on a Kim Swiggett goal.
By the time the first half water break had arrived, Palmer keeper Kelly Eriksen had been peppered with close to 20 shots, four more of which got past her, and it was 6-0.
“We already knew we had a big challenge in front of us, and then when we lost the coin toss, we lost the wind and that really put us in a hole early,” Palmer Trinity coach Phil Gentles said. “Still, we didn’t come out sharp, and when you’re playing one of the best teams in the country, not the state, you can’t afford to not come out sharp.”
Still, the Falcons kept battling and never actually gave up another goal. The only other score came on an own goal just two minutes into the second half when a PT defender tried to clear a ball but instead bounced it off Eriksen into the net. Country Day needed one more goal over the next 38 minutes to end it (an eight-goal differential in the second half is the mercy rule) but never got it.
“I think I’m most proud of that,” Gentles said. “When you give up six goals in the first 20 minutes, that usually means the game won’t go the distance. We could’ve laid down and gotten mercy-ruled, but we didn’t. We battled the rest of the first half and then had the wind in the second and only give up one goal over the last 60 minutes.”
Even with the wind in the second half, the Falcons (17-6-1), who lost to this same team 7-1 in the state title game two years ago, were only able to register one shot on goal the entire game, which came from the team’s leading scorer Sarah Medina in the 65th minute.
And for Medina, who led the team with 48 goals and 24 assists, it turned out to be a bittersweet day. With it being National Signing Day, she headed back to her hotel after the game, where a ceremony was set to take place as she committed her soccer talents to Wake Forest.
“A little bittersweet for sure,” said Medina, who left Palmer after leading her team to the final two years ago to play in Central Florida last season, where she played for the Leesburg First Acadamy “boys” team and made first-team all-county. “It would’ve been great to be moving on to the championship game as well as signing with Wake, but it didn’t work out.
“St. Johns is a great team and really strong, and maybe we might’ve come out a little intimidated at first because they’ve been there so often. Our dream was we just wanted to be that underdog story of taking out the top team, but we had that nightmare start and that was pretty much it. But I was proud of all my teammates that we never threw in the towel and kept battling to the end.”