The Evangelical Christian girls soccer team will face a team they’ve never played in a game they’ve never been to before tonight.
ECS (25-1) will be traveling 251 miles south to the Florida Keys to face Marathon High School at 7 p.m.
“It will be a fun game playing an opponent you’ve never played before, said ECS coach Steve Magner, whose team will leave this morning and drive back after the game. “I’m trying to dig up something.”
The decision by the FHSAA to no longer hold the state semifinals and finals in the same location has added some extra miles on the Sentinels’ travel budget.
Marathon was 0-4 in previous appearances in the FHSAA playoffs in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2012. The Dolphins won their first district title in school history this season and are in their first state semifinal. ECS is also in its first state semifinal.
Marathon coach Cindy Durkin attributes the sudden success to her team’s chemistry. This is Durkin’s first year coaching high school soccer but she coached many of the girls between the ages of 6-10 on the youth level.
“The team has come together in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past,” said Durkin, whose team is 14-7-3 overall but 14-1-1 against other Class A schools. “They eat dinner and breakfast together. It’s a family of 18 girls and that’s how we’ve bonded together. They live and die for each other.”
Besides making ECS drive a long way to play Marathon will have another home fields advantage tonight. Being a small town of 5,000 year-round residents, no more than 20 people attended Dophins home games during the regular season. But the town’s population swells to 12,000 in the winter. For Tuesday’s Region A-4 final win an estimated 600 people were in attendance.
“There was a lot of energy in that stadium,” Durkin said. “A part of coming from a small town is when something big happens everyone comes out.”
Durkin said she expects between 700-800 noisy fans in tonight’s state semifinal.
Magner believes his team will be ready. The Sentinels erased last year’s bad memory of losing to Melbourne Central Catholic in the regional final 6-3 by defeating MCC 4-0 at home on Tuesday.
“The girls are really excited, they were working so hard to get to this point,” Magner said. “They’ve been working hard all season, its the game we wanted to win. Avenge the loss from last year.”
One good sign for ECS in that win was leading scorer Haley Pigott (73 goals) netting a hat trick, which snapped a two-game scoring drought for the junior.
“She played great, a real tribute to how hard she works,” Magner said. “Even when she’s not at 100 percent she continues to play and helps the team. She is a tremendous player.”
Adding to the attack was freshman Kylee Rullo (28 goals), who scored a goal in the second half, her seventh second-half goal in her last four games.