By Official Florida FC
This week, six girls teams will glide out of Spec Martin Stadium with the trophy they have coveted all season long. The FHSAA girls soccer finals kick off Wednesday with a trio of private school encounters that are not short on storylines.
Here are five questions that will be answered this week in DeLand.
Will Duval do it?
Neptune Beach Fletcher is in the state final for the first time in 24 years. The Senators (17-5-2) are seeking to become the first Duval County public school to win a state championship.
Fletcher kicked off the season giving perennial state champion St. Johns Country Day everything it could handle for 75 minutes, before conceding two late goals. In the run-up to Friday’s Class 6A final, the Senators have shown resilience with road victories in Navarre and Gainesville as well as a come-from-behind win over Fleming Island in the Region 1-6A final.
They will likely need to play a complete 80 minutes, and possibly more, in order to defeat a Miami Lourdes (17-1-3) team that will play in its third straight FHSAA final.
Can the dynastic duo repeat
Lakeland Christian has been the team to beat all season long in Class 3A. The Vikings are the reigning Class 3A state champions and played the second-toughest schedule in the classification.
Victories over Bolles and Merritt Island as well as sharing a pitch with St. Johns Bartram Trail, Ponte Vedra and Class 4A state finalist Orlando Bishop Moore has prepared the Vikings to retain their title. Lakeland Christian has posted 19 shutouts in 26 matches this season.
Bre Newberg was between the pipes last year for the Vikings. The senior United States Air Force Academy signee would love nothing more than to end her varsity career with another state championship.
The other team that will attempt to keep its hands on the trophy is Orange Park St. Johns Country Day. The Spartans (18-3-1) are in search of their 11th straight state championship.
St. Johns Country Day is 2-0-1 against other state finalists this season and outscored opponents 95-9. St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep will have to pull off the performance of a lifetime to deny the Spartans a 14th FHSAA title.
Is it Cypress Bay’s time?
Weston Cypress Bay will play in its fourth straight FHSAA final. The Lightning haven’t scored in their three previous trips to DeLand.
The key will be getting off to an early start. St. Johns Bartram Trail pounced on Cypress Bay in both the 2020 and 2021 finals. This year, the Bears are at home. Their archrival St. Johns Creekside is standing between Cypress Bay and its first FHSAA title.
Creekside has scored within the first 10 minutes of both its regional final and state semifinal victories. Meanwhile, Cypress Bay has not conceded from the run of play in its last 11 matches.
Barbara Garcia Padilla will play her final game for the Lightning on Friday night. The FIU signee is a three-year starter who was named the Broward County Player of the Year in 2021. She scored twice in a 3-0 win over Boca Raton in the state semifinals and would love nothing more than to help her team win its first FHSAA title.
Can Ryleigh Acosta keep scoring?
Cape Coral Mariner midfielder Ryleigh Acosta is an equal opportunity goal scorer. The sophomore has 26 goals and 25 assists in 23 games this season. She has six goals and five assists in the district, regional and state playoffs.
Naples is one of the few teams to have kept her off the scoresheet during a 1-0 win on Jan. 5.
Mariner is far from a one-person team, even if that one person is a dynamic scorer and creator. Both of Acosta’s parents played soccer at Mariner. Acosta’s mother, Kim, set the school record for assists in a season 25 years ago.
Ryleigh and the Tritons are one win away from surpassing anything any Mariner has managed: win a FHSAA state title.
Will a first-timer bring the trophy home?
Whoever wins the Class 5A title will be a debutant winner. Neither Naples (16-4-3) nor Cape Coral Mariner (21-3) have previously appeared in a FHSAA state final.
Naples’ last deep run came nearly three decades ago when the Golden Eagles lost in the state semifinals in both 1993 and 1994. Meanwhile, Mariner, had never advanced beyond the regional final until this year.
Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin is also in the FHSAA final for the first time. The Buccaneers lost a state semifinal in 2013, but have used the timely goalscoring of sophomore midfielder Lily White, leadership of United States Military Academy signee Lily Valentini and the superb goalkeeping of senior goalkeeper Logan McGruder. Those three, and others, will likely need to be at their best to dethrone Lakeland Christian.
FHSAA Girls Soccer Finals
Wednesday, Feb. 23
Class 3A: Palm Beach Gardens Benjamin (16-1-1) vs. Lakeland Christian (21-2-3), 1:05 p.m.
Class 4A: Delray Beach American Heritage (13-1-2) vs. Orlando Bishop Moore (17-3-2), 4:05 p.m.
Class 2A: St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep (15-3) vs. Orange Park St. Johns Country Day (18-3-1), 7:05 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 25
Class 6A: Neptune Beach Fletcher (17-5-2) vs. Miami Lourdes (17-1-3), 1:05 p.m.
Class 7A: Weston Cypress Bay (16-4-1) vs. St. Johns Creekside (18-3-1), 4:05 p.m.
Class 5A: Naples (16-3-4) vs. Cape Coral Mariner (21-3), 7:05 p.m.