The West Florida High girls soccer team knows this all to well: if you want to win in District 1-3A, you have to beat Gulf Breeze.
“They’re going to be the biggest obstacle for anybody in the area,” West Florida coach Peter Stephens said. “They’re the team to beat.”
Last season, the Jaguars were able to do just that, bouncing back from a loss in the District 1-3A championship to defeat the Dolphins in overtime during the region semifinals.
Stephens, in his third year coaching the Jaguars, said he has the tools to repeat that success again this season.
“We are still a young team,” Stephens said. “We’ve lost three seniors from last year’s team, but it’s pretty much the same team — 16 kids.”
Among those returning are the speedy scoring duo of Kaysi Roberts and Andrea Rivera, both of whom recorded goals during the 2-1 region semifinal win against Gulf Breeze.
Joining them is fellow senior and goalkeeper Brianna Wisniewski, whose defense last season helped propel the Jaguars to the region title game.
With the addition of Choctawhatchee and Escambia to District 1-3A, the competition will only become stiffer.
Still, all roads lead to the same place.
“Every championship goes to Gulf Breeze,” Stephens said. “All our people know you’re going to have to play Gulf Breeze along the way and that you’re going to have to beat Gulf Breeze.”
District 1-4A has a lot of talent spread out among its eight teams — the most in any local district — but Niceville, Pace and Navarre are the teams most likely to battle it out in the postseason.
Last year, Pace lost to Niceville in the District 1-4A championship, and again in the Region 1-4A semifinal match.
David Seevers is the first-year coach for the Patriots this season, although he’s been involved with the boys soccer program in years past.
“We are a talented team,” Seevers said. “We’ve got a solid group of seniors and solid group of juniors. I think we’re going to do all right. We’re still trying to get our full momentum going. I think we’ll probably have a successful season.”
The Navarre Raiders, fielding 10 returning seniors from last season, will look to break a string of postseason bad luck.
“The last two years, they have lost in the district semis by a single goal,” Navarre coach Rob Simon said. “The last time they were in the region playoffs, they lost by a single goal.
“As far as talent-wise, this is one of the better teams I’ve gotten to coach. The girls are hungry. They’ve worked hard all summer.”
The Catholic Crusaders are in a true rebuilding season this year with the loss of their head coach during the offseason.
After advancing to the state semifinals last year, the Crusaders’ longtime head coach Breck Smith announced her resignation over the summer.
Smith left behind a winning program, compiling a 111-34-6 career record at Catholic.
Under new Catholic coach Mark Yepishin, the Crusaders look to resume their winning ways.
“Our focus will be on getting the younger girls — on their first touch, on their ability to look up to play the ball — to actually think of a play before they receive the ball,” Yepishin said. “Also, we will work on team shape.”