ORANGE PARK - In a unique doubleheader of playoff soccer, the St. Johns Country Day School boys and girls soccer teams both won district championship games on their home turf to continue seasons into …
ORANGE PARK - In a unique doubleheader of playoff soccer, the St. Johns Country Day School boys and girls soccer teams both won district championship games on their home turf to continue seasons into region playoff rounds.
For the girls, the Lady Spartans blasted an 8-0 win over St. Joseph Academy with the game stopped near the 25 minutes to go mark while the boys got fast goals from Max Arnold and Matthew Stratton to surge to a 4-1 win over St. Joseph Academy for their district 3-2A title.
The Lady Spartan domination was the first step to a hashtag motivation for coach Mike Pickett who is aiming for a 10th straight state title.
“That’s our hashtag; #DOE, Decade of Excellence, since day one,” said Pickett. “And this season has made that goal very challenging with everything that has happened.”
For the girls, now 13-0, a three goal performance by Mia Sadler led the Lady Spartans with Julia Boaventura landing two goals and one each for Natalie Wilson, Bella Pontieri and Kamryn Towers to thump the Flashes. St. Johns dispatched of University Christian with also an 8-0 win to advance with St. Joseph beating Christ’s Church 5-0.
Against University Christian, goals came from Ava Morin with two, and one each for Boaventura, Pontieri, Sophia Pontiere, Kiera Moisan, Towers and Lauren Mateo as Pickett was able to use a plethora of young talent in the lopsided victory.
“We saw a lot of younger kids out there which is good for the program,” said Pickett. “The young kids are stepping in and the level doesn’t drop.”
For Mike Pickett, the St. Johns coach attempting a new record 10th straight state title in Classes 1A and 2A, the shortened seasoned has been mainly a “digital” obstacle for his staff. The win was the 18th district title for Pickett.
“When we came out of our break for COVID (three weeks), we were grateful to be out here,” said Pickett, who himself had a spat with the dreaded disease. “We were doing everything they asked with masks and distancing. Somewhere along the line, I picked it up. Who know where I got it.”
Pickett strategy during his prolonged hiatus was challenging to say the least.
“It was quite a challenge with doing zoom meetings and workouts via computer and phone calls, but the seniors on the team kept the rope tight and kept the focus,” said Pickett. “There was five day period that I did not think any about soccer because I was fighting for my life just to breathe. I know what shortness of breath is now.”
In the district tournament, Pickett noted the fast starts for his girls and the patient but quick attacks.
“That first period against St. Joseph was clinical; one of the best I’ve ever seen in high school soccer,” said Pickett. “We’ve changed the system a bit after the holiday and COVID. We had a system that I had for 15 year, but it just wasn’t working with this group and I’m not revealing the new changes here. This team has done a lot of classwork and video work; during lunch and at home.”
Nonetheless, new system or not, the Lady Spartans enter the region playoff arena with a less than normal regular season minus a dozen or so games against high-powered teams to battle ready the squad.
“When we had Abbey Newton and Carson Pickett back when, we were thinking a national title was available and we did it,” said Pickett. “This team needed a new jolt. They did homework and I sent position by position directions to each player. At first, I thought we had made a big mistake, but we still gutted out a 2-1 win over a really tough Fletcher team, then Creekside.”
Without the firepower of playing the likes of Monteverde, Bishop Moore, Bishop Kenny and the likes, Pickett noted his 2021 strenghth of schedule is vastly diminished.
“We didn’t lose just eight games, but we lost eight big games,” said Pickett. “At the national push, you got to have those games to compete. We are geared for the state title and then rankings will go where they go.”
For Jimmy Merritt, the four year coach for the boys team with a tradition of deep region runs, three district titles in a row, the 2021 team has a higher level of one ingredient.
“It’s nice to have speed on the field,” said Merritt, who pointed to a newcomer as infusing that sense of speed-oriented attacks. “Max Arnold came back to soccer after not playing for a long time and his athleticism and speed has added another element to our attack. He’s just a natural athlete and the rest of the team has taken well to his putting up front pressure on opposing teams setting up.”
Against St. Joseph, Arnold played a pressuring front forward that made the goalie out kicks precarious for the Flashes who had to uptick where and how fast they were able to start their advances.
“Off the ball, we are really athletic and fast and now this team has been together for about six years and that counts for a lot,” said Merritt. “Dru (Detlefsen) as point guard is a tremendous starting point because he is so smart at the top of the formation.”
Detlefsen, who punched in key assists to the four Spartan goals, got a header corner pass to Arnold to open the scoring before setting up the second in front of the goal to set up a rebound blast from Stratton.
“We worked all year on the front running pressure front,” said Detlefsen, directing the Spartans to a 12-2-1 record. “I’m be able to take more time on the ball to make good decisions to deliver. With Stratton out there, it’s nice to have a guy who never gets tired.”
Detlefsen’s reference to Stratton was from Stratton being a top cross country and track runner for the Spartans.
St. Johns final goal was a header off a set piece to Max Monroe that was a top goal-getter for Detlefsen last year.
“We always have that option with Max Monroe in the middle, but the other guys; Max Arnold and Stratton and Jacob (Graston) and Landon (Brafford) coming in from the outside makes everything very fast and gives me lots of options,” said Detlefsen.
St. Johns opens regions with the girls and boys both hosting Bishop McLaughlin Catholic (15-3-2 for the boys, 6-3-3 for the girls) this week; Wed., Feb. 17 for the boys and Tues., Feb. 16 for the girls.