Hawks top Melbourne on penalty kicks to advance to girls soccer regional finals
The Viera High girls soccer team advanced to the Class 4A regional finals for the first time in school history following a 2-1 (4-3) victory over rival Melbourne High Tuesday night.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
Six Viera High girls soccer players gathered in a tight circle.
After a 1-1 tie in regulation and two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the players knew the fate of their team’s season – and a chance to make school history -- rested in their hands … and on their feet.
“We were just confiding in each other,” Viera senior Hope Leonard said. “We are a team, so we trust each other and we know we have each other’s backs. We were telling (goalkeeper Sydney Lau) that we believe in her, and that we believe in each other.”
Moments later, that faith would be rewarded.
Lau’s diving stop on Melbourne’s final penalty kick attempt gave the Hawks a 2-1 (4-3) victory over their archrivals Tuesday night in the Class 4A regional semifinals and touched off an emotional celebration.
“I felt it building up,” Leonard said of Lau’s game-winning stop. “I just kept saying, ‘She’s going to save it. I can feel it,’ and when she actually did, I just exploded. We all said if she saves it, we were going to run out, and we did.”
The victory puts the Hawks (17-2-0) into the regional finals for the first time in school history. Viera will travel to New Port Richey on Friday to play Mitchell (20-1-0), which will be playing in its third consecutive region final.
“This is school history … it was our goal,” Viera coach Courtney Lundy said.
After beating Melbourne twice earlier this season, the Hawks needed every ounce of energy they had to beat the Bulldogs Tuesday night in what proved to be quite a defensive matchup.
After Brookelyn Walsh gave Viera a 1-0 lead with less than two minutes left in the first half, the Bulldogs tied it up on a goal by Rachel Jenkins with just 11:15 remaining in regulation and the game would eventually go to penalty kicks.
What many might not have known is that Lau, who had 13 saves on the night, was playing on an injured knee.
“The fact that she stayed on the field showed her heart and passion,” Lundy said. “That’s all she wanted to do was stay on the field. We told her, ‘You’ve only got to save one.’”
Jordan Walsh was up first for the Hawks and drilled her shot into the net, only to have Melbourne answer right back. After both goalkeepers made saves to keep the score at 1-1, Viera’s Kassidy Mills, Leonard and Tori Clark all converted with Clark’s goal putting the Hawks up 4-3 and giving the Bulldogs one last chance to tie it.
As the Melbourne player prepared for her shot, Lau was trying to guess which side would be attacked, willing herself to come up big for her team.
“I watched her line up and I just figured by her hip position and how she set up, I knew she was going (to her right) and I just went for it,” Lau said.
It doesn’t get more dramatic than that.
As the Viera players celebrated, Leonard sought out the Melbourne player who missed the last shot to offer words of encouragement.
On a night where the tension on the field was palpable, and there was no doubt that both teams left a little piece of themselves out there, the Hawks could finally take one big, satisfying breath
“It was a great game to watch … Melbourne’s definitely a great team, great program,” Lundy said. “It was a battle tonight and we didn’t expect anything less.”
Tuesday night’s game marked the 12th time in Leonard’s four-year Viera High career that she had played against Melbourne. It’s safe to say, she’ll remember this one the most.
“Most likely,” she smiled. “It’s the happiest one.”