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Pickett juggles front attack line

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 12/21/22

ORANGE PARK - As if he had anticipated the question prior to it being asked, St. Johns Country Day School girls soccer coach Mike Pickett revealed a bit of his season’s strategy Thursday night as …

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Pickett juggles front attack line


ORANGE PARK - As if he had anticipated the question prior to it being asked, St. Johns Country Day School girls soccer coach Mike Pickett revealed a bit of his season’s strategy Thursday night as his Lady Spartans were warming up to clash with Class 4A champion Bishop Moore.

“We are defending well right now,” said St. Johns coach Mike Pickett, the Class 2A defending champion and owner of 11 straight state titles to date. “Right now, we are playing different than we have in the past.”

One page of the famous Pickett “notebook” ordered up a change in the line up with senior Lauren Mateo and freshman Sydney Schmidt putting their legs to use in different parts of the field. Mateo, one of Pickett’s mainstays in the goalie box last year as a wicked good headball attacker, has been a few yards back as more a center midfielder/defender as Pickett lets his young phenom, Schmidt, see what it’s like in the traffic of much bigger opponents somewhat embarrassed by Schmidt’s elusive effectiveness with her slashing runs to goal for a team-leading 11 goals.

“Sydney is starting out wide tonight,” said Pickett, now 10-1-1, and possibly offering a sneak preview of the playoff plan of attack or, more likely, a little bit of card shuffling for those future playoff opponents in attendance at Thursday clash. “Lauren (Mateo) will be in a forward position.”

His answer when posed with the question of senior Lauren Mateo returning to a more forward midfielder position to enhance her leaping headball expertise and deft foot skill. Mateo, headed to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University next fall, had been a center midfielder kind of quarterbacking the front line attacking of Schmidt while anchoring a relatively young back line in front goalie Roxy Matthews.

Mateo’s scoring prowess was always on the field, just not exclusive. Mateo currently has nine goals with Sophia Pontieri with six and Alixandria Fletcher with four; including the second of the half against Bishop Moore.

“We are pretty interchangeable in our lineup,” said Pickett. “We play a different lineup each game. We are getting a good balance attack.”

Against Bishop Moore, with Pickett swapping positions for Mateo to center forward and Schmidt’s speed on the Spartan sideline to push to corner service kicks, Mateo banged home the first goal of two for the first half in a flurry for St. Johns; Fletcher with the second just a minute later though Bishop Moore seemed able to move down the field muscling past the midfield stripe numerous times.

“They scored two on us in the second half, but we responded quickly from 2-1 to 3-1, then 3-2 to 4-2, the final,” said Pickett. “This was a big game, Sophia had the big goal at the end for the win.”

Pickett’s gauntlet of a schedule; a 1-1 ie to Bartram Trail, a 1-0 loss to Montverde and wins over Chiles, Ponte Vedra, Viera, Venice and Fletcher plus Bishop Moore left the Spartans ranked number two nationwide by Maxpreps rankings.

Against Fletcher, goals came from Mateo, Fletcher, Pontieri and Cece Nowicki.

“I think the tie to Bartram and the loss to Montverde; Bartram beat them 1-0, are what has us at number two,” said Pickett. “Our schedule is one of toughest in the nation.”

Pickett has former players on his team as coaches; daughter Carson Pickett and goalie Sarah Voigt-Voglewede, plus a two time St. Johns state champion with Mike Pickett for the boys in Mike “Spook” Hill. “We have an alumni coaching staff,” said Pickett. “All great players on their own giving back.”

Carson Pickett is currently on the phone call list for the USA Womens National Team with a couple games played in the past year. Voigt-Voglewede was Pickett’s goalie in a run of state titles plus a standout at Notre Dame and Hill was Mike Pickett’s teammate for back-to-back state titles in the 1980s.

“Spook, who I have been friends with since we were two years old, locked down a 50-goal scorer from Tampa in our first title then we smoked the second at home in front of a packed house,” said Pickett. “Back then, the returning champion would host if they returned to the final and we did it here with 700-plus fans packing the field. The school had to build some wooden stands for the game.”

Pickett planned a six day hiatus for his girls then back on the field to defend yet another title and to garner a quick dozen in 2023.

Bartram Trail knocks Fleming Island from unbeaten ranks

Fleming Island was riding a 6-0-1 record as they traveled to undefeated Bartram Trail; also top ranked in USA by Maxpreps, and came home with a 5-0 loss. Bartram Trail followed their season script of more goals in the second half with two in the first and three in the second for the win. Bartram Trail senior Grace Ivey, the Gatorade Florida Girls Soccer Player of the Year last year, and also daughter to former Fleming Island High coach Darrell Ivey, scored three goals. From St. Johns Country Day School, former players Abbey Newton (2017-18) and Kamy Loustau (2018-19) also were Gatorade players of the year.

Fleming Island (6-1-2) regrouped after the Bartram Trail loss with a decisive 3-0 win over Atlantic Coast on Friday. On Tuesday, the Golden Eagles won an 8-0 game over Wolfson. Fleming Island returns from the holiday break with Sandalwood, Ponte Vedra, Stanton, 6A-champion Fletcher and St. Johns Classic Academy as the season finale.

For the Lady Golden Eagles, junior Taylor Tamares leads the scoring with seven goals in five games with Gianna Gardner with six in six games.

Lady Raiders, Blue Devils lose firsts of season

In a turn of events before an anticipated battle of unbeatens after the Christmas break (Jan. 6), both the Orange Park and Clay high girls soccer teams suffered their first losses of the year in the past week.

Clay, 7-1-0, lost a 2-1 game with Oakleaf on December 13 while the Lady Raiders, 8-1-0, blemished their egg with a loss to Blanding Blvd rival Ridgeview, 1-0 on December 8. Clay was 2-10 last year and coach Stephanie Waugh has completely revamped the Blue Devil game plan.

Against Oakleaf, Clay was without lead scorer Kirra Dodson and her 25 goals, plus one of three assist players for coach Stephanie Waugh; Faith Espino, who has three dishes along with Jessica Cruz and Erika Martinez.

Clay finishes the first half of their season with a home match on Mon., Dec.19 against Beachside, 5-3-1, with Orange Park and Ridgeview to follow.

Orange Park is led by sophomore scorer Ryanne Robinson, a sophomore who finished with 24 goals last year to push the Raiders to a 7-5-3 finish. Ridgeview loses the 21 goals total from coach Trevor Clark’s sister duo of senior Naycka Ortiz (11) and freshman Niurka Ortiz (10). The Ortiz sisters were transfers to Ridgeview last year.

Ridgeview, 3-3-3, and a region playoff contender in Class 5A last year (11-2-2; lost 2-0 to Panama City Arnold in quarterfinals), and Orange Park both made their respective district championships with Ridgeview winning the 4-5A over Menendez 4-0 and Orange Park losing the 3-5A to Stanton 6-1. Ridgeview earned a region spot while Orange Park did not.

Shaw up to 41 goals

Led by an astounding scoring season thus far from sophmore Kiersten Shaw, who has 41 goals thus far, Keystone Heights High’s girls soccer team has taken Shaw’s goal production to finish the first half of the season at 10-4 with four wins in their last five contests. Columbia beat Keystone Heights 4-3 on December 12 to ruin Christmas excitement.

Last year, Shaw finished with 58 goals with Keystone Heights finishing 15-6-3.

Shaw finished the fall season run with goal totals of six in 8-0 win over Fort White; three in 8-1 win over Newberry; three in 4-3 loss to Columbia; four in 6-1 win over Williston and two in 3-2 in over Santa Fe on December 16. Shaw’s best game total was a seven goal night in an 8-2 win over Trenton.

Junior Ella Hutchins is Shaw’s wing man with 17 goals and 15 assists. Hutchins’ best goal night was five scores against Fort White.