The girls soccer rivalry between Mariner and North Fort Myers only grew more competitive last season. Mariner hoisted district championship hardware after a 1-0 win over North while the Red Knights eventually ended the Tritons season in a regional semifinal.
It’s a season Mariner coach Jefferson Swift and his club haven’t forgotten. With both teams returning the majority of their starters this season its clear the road to a District 3A-13 title will run through northern Lee County.
While the teams don’t meet until Dec. 16 at North, they’ll be keeping an eye on each other’s progress until then.
“The rivalry motivates us quite a bit. Each team carries with it some type of bragging rights – us with the trophy, them with our season ending,” Swift said. “We know both teams are returning a lot of starters and added some key components.
“It’s kind of good news and bad news that we don’t face them until late in the year. It builds some of the suspense a little bit, but it would be nice to see them earlier in the season so we know where we’re at against some of the better teams.”
Mariner is coming off a 19-3-3 season where Swift was forced to start a bunch of freshmen and sophomores from different club teams. He found success in meshing the talents together and now returns 10 of 11 starters who built significant chemistry during the offseason.
“Getting out here and having fun and kicking the ball around is easy, but getting the girls out of their comfort zone together and building each other up is the hard part,” Swift said. “The work we’ve done off the field I’m hoping can translate on the field.”
The Tritons return their primary offensive weapon in sophomore Taylor Yount. The News-Press Soccer Player of the Year finalist scored 37 goals and tallied 19 assists en route to all-state honors last season.
At times defenders were able to push her around last season, but an offseason in the weight room will make that more difficult.
“It’s kind of the old adage – bigger, faster stronger. She’s coming in in great shape – obviously she’s always been pretty fit — but a little more physically mature,” Swift said. “She gets leaned on by defenders a little bit over the course of a game. She’s our top offensive target so she catches a lot of fouls from other teams and rightfully so. Her increase in size and stature will help her ward off some of those challenges. When her shots are falling for her she’s a pretty dangerous player to have out there.”
A big part of the Tritons’ game will be finding a way to distribute balls to Yount upfield. The job will fall on midfielders Sophia Restrepo, Karleigh Acosta and Aryana Saenz.
Mariner is at its best when it’s communicating, using the whole field and picking the right spots to use its speed and choosing the right times to be physical.
“It’s a team effort,” Yount said. “It’s not just one person up top that is relied on to do all the scoring. We have to play as a team and have good chemistry to win games.”
Junior Julissa Chimelis leads a defense that at times faltered last season when it became frantic resorting to kicking balls down the field in a panic. Chimelis will be charged with calming the unit down in times of frustration, calling for calm delivery of balls out of the backfield.
The addition of Ida Baker transfer Acelya Aydogmus in the net should give the defense a lot of confidence. One of the elite keepers in the area, the junior has high-end strength and speed while showcasing the ability to get to high and low balls.
While at Baker last season, Aydogmus gave Mariner fits. Swift remembers a moment when the Tritons were trailing by a goal and on a free kick. Aydogmus was able to get to the kick that was headed toward the one of the upper corners and tip it over the bar to preserve the Baker victory.
“We’ve seen it up close and personal against us. So now, we’re looking forward to her making those saves for us,” Swift said.
Fitting in with a close-knit team that’s been playing together for a season hasn’t been difficult, Aydogmus said.
“I have a great attitude and mindset toward just playing and just winning,” Aydogmus said. “It’s just feels good because we’re all improving together and individually.”
The Tritons can only hope to be at their best around the time of Dec. 16 and later in the season during the district and regional playoffs where North awaits.
Contenders: Gulf Coast, Ida Baker, Estero
Sleepers: Fort Myers, Riverdale, Palmetto Ridge
Players to watch: Haley Rounsifer (Jr., Ida Baker), Sedona Townsend (Sr., Ida Baker), Paxton Guerin (Jr., Ida Baker), Elizabeth DePasqual (Sr., South Fort Myers), Marley Brown (Jr., South Fort Myers), Marianna Scine (Sr., South Fort Myers), Kayla Thorne (Fort Myers), Sara Delucca (Fort Myers), Olivia Talmage (Fort Myers), Jennifer Jaime (East Lee County), Emily Cervantes (East Lee County), Claudia Lopez (Sr., Estero), Sarah Smith (Sr., Estero), Haley DeSanto (Jr., Estero), Sabrina Cuervo (Sr., Riverdale), Kaitlyn Malone (Jr., Riverdale), Ashlee Pendarvis (Jr., Riverdale), Jasmine Feliciano (Lehigh), Naomy Ruiz (Lehigh), Jessica White (Lehigh)
Outlook: Although Ida Baker lost six starters from last year’s 18-8-1 team, the Bulldogs appear to be among the favorites in the district alongside Gulf Coast, which beat Baker in a regional semifinal last season. Rounsifer, who was among the state’s leading scorers last season, will be joined by a talented group of freshmen who’ll see significant minutes. Estero lost News-Press Player of the Year Taylor Hatch to graduation but returns a group of strong players, who should put the Wildcats in the mix for a district title. Fort Myers is looking to snap a 17-year district title drought in coach David Trepkowski’s last season.
Contenders: North Fort Myers, Mariner
Sleepers: Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, Lemon Bay
Players to watch: Taylor Yount (So., Mariner), Acelya Aydogmus (Jr., Mariner), Sophia Restrepo (Jr., Mariner), Taylor Kruse (Jr., North Fort Myers), Kenzi Walden (Jr., North Fort Myers), Tori Kowalczyk (Sr., North Fort Myers), Sharon Churlin (Island Coast)
Outlook: Behind Yount, a News-Press Player of the Year finalist, the Tritons won a district title last season by knocking off North Fort Myers only to fall to the Red Knights in a regional semifinal. Yount is back for her sophomore season on a team that returns 10 of 11 starters and brought in Aydogmus, a transfer from Ida Baker, to occupy the goal. North, which lost to Plantation American Heritage in a regional final last season, will provide a strong test to the Tritons. The Red Knights are a possession-oriented team that will give impatient teams fits. Expect a rematch of these teams in the district final.
Contenders: Bishop Verot, Oasis, Clewiston
Sleepers: Gateway Charter, LaBelle
Players to watch: Madeline Sarnac (Sr. Bishop Verot), Elena Quinonez (Sr., Bishop Verot), Nina Gulati (So., Bishop Verot), Lander Peck (So., Bishop Verot), Ashley Wiltgen (Eighth grade Gateway), Leticia Villarreal (So., Gateway), Hannah Riske (So., Gateway)
Outlook: Verot is coming off a 14-9-1 season where it fell in a regional semifinal and should make a push toward a district title behind strong senior leadership and younger talented players.
Contenders: Evangelical Christian, Community School of Naples, Canterbury, First Baptist Academy
Sleepers: Southwest Florida Christian, Moore Haven, Seacrest Country Day, Marco Island Academy, St. John Neumann,
Players to watch: Tori Brauch (Fr., Canterbury), Makinna Fisher (So., Canterbury), Peyton Hornung (Sr., Canterbury), Molly Lunsford (Jr., ECS), Madisyn Dupree (Jr., ECS), Mallory Hayden (So., ECS), Whitney Tovar (Jr., SFCA), Emma Lobbestael (Jr., SFCA), Addison Tovar (Jr., SFCA)
Outlook: ECS is coming off a 20-3 season and a loss in a regional semifinal. Although the Sentinels have nine returning starters they are younger and at a size disadvantage to some of the other teams in the district. Coach Steve Magner is searching for consistent play and strong team chemistry as the team moves forward.