Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Preps: Steinbrenner aiming high in inaugural season

LUTZ – It’s rare for any new high school sports program to enter its first season with the goal of hosting a region tournament game.

But for Steinbrenner High’s girls soccer team, that goal doesn’t seem at all unrealistic.

The Warriors take the field at Gaither on Tuesday night for their first regular season game with a squad far more experienced than many others have had the good fortune to field. Within Steinbrenner’s squad are a number of players who won a district title with Sickles last season, and have the intention of doing the same thing at their new school.

“We want to make this school known for its girls soccer team,” junior Carly Keene said. “I came from Sickles, and we won districts last year, and I want to win it again because that felt great, and to be the first girls soccer team at Steinbrenner High to win districts would be awesome.”

If they are to achieve their goal of immediate success, it would appear they have the right coach in place to accomplish it. Former Gaither coach Teresa Patterson has had experience starting soccer programs on the college level, first as an assistant when the University of Alabama-Birmingham began its women’s program in 1996, and then as the head coach of Marshall in 1998.

Patterson said taking the opportunity to coach at Steinbrenner wasn’t one she could pass up.

“Those experiences (in college) let me know it would be a lot of work, but it is really rewarding because you get to start everything from the beginning and make it the way you want,” Patterson said.

What has been most rewarding for Patterson so far is the roles the experienced players on her squad have taken. From the opening day of training, the team’s goal has been to earn at least a district title. That sort of success wouldn’t be unprecedented in Hillsborough County. Six years ago, Newsome opened, and won a district title in its first season, reaching the Class 4A Region final before falling to eventual state champion Tarpon Springs. The Warriors could end up following a similar path.

“The juniors and sophomores helped frame the goal that they want to host a regional game, which means they want to win districts,” Patterson said. “I think that would be lofty for any other first-year program, but since this group has had this collective experience together, and comes from such established club programs, I think it’s realistic.”

“The best players we could possibly have, we have here,” forward CiCi Gonzalez said. Gonzalez led Sickles with 13 goals a season ago. “We’re young, but we’re skilled and we’ve played together a lot of us, so we know how to play with each other, it’s not all coming together jumbled.”

That could be trouble for the Warriors’ Class 4A-District 9 opponents. With Strawberry Crest also present, the rest of the district has not historically had strong soccer programs.

Which in turn gives the Warriors even more belief that this season could be a special one.

“They do have pride in Steinbrenner soccer, and from the beginning they have,” Patterson said. “Not one of them has anything but excitement and positive words to say about where we’re going to go as a group. Usually you hear a little bit about the past, but they’re all about the future, the present and the future, and it’s really refreshing to hear and exciting.”

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