Viera High senior Taylor George had been waiting for this moment, well, “since I knew it was a thing, which was when I was a freshman.”
And afterward, it still really hadn’t hit her yet.
Toni Burwell got to make the walk not just once, but twice with her twin sister, Adi. She described the night as “emotional.”
“It was really sweet,” Toni Burwell said. “I’ve been anticipating it all week. It was well worth all the hard work and effort, I’d say.
“… When the game ended, I started crying a little bit. Everyone was like, ‘Are you OK?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ It just kind of all hit me, I guess.”
Welcome to Senior Night for the Viera High girls soccer team.
It’s as much a celebration as it is a competition.
The competition saw Viera put together five second-half goals to beat visiting Heritage 6-0 and improve to 4-2-2 on the season.
The celebration was for seniors Adi Burwell; Alyssa Miller; Kaley Vitaliano; Toni Burwell; George and Olivia Frederick, who were all introduced at halftime.
“The whole high school experience, none of it for me would have been complete without this team and women’s soccer,” Toni Burwell said. “… This is my family. I couldn’t imagine not seeing them every day.”
As is the tradition of Senior Night, all six seniors were in the starting lineup for the Hawks. That included Frederick, a goalkeeper who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Under an agreement among both coaching staffs, immediately after the opening kickoff, the ball was kicked out of bounds so that sophomore Kendall Mix could be substituted for Frederick and the game could resume.
Viera dominated play, but had a hard time breaking through against the Panthers’ goalkeeper, who made a number of impressive saves throughout the game.
A goal by Vitaliano, off an assist from George, put the Hawks up 1-0 at the half.
Viera would return to action and get two goals from George and one goal each from Gianna Buysee; Meghan Nadle and Miller to close things out.
Buysee had two assists for the Hawks. George, Toni Burwell, Adi Burwell.
In addition to making sure all the seniors started, Viera coach Cal Dixon was able to use his entire available roster, which made for a fun night and some player combinations the Hawks don’t usually use.
Dixon wasn’t particularly happy with the way Viera played Monday night, but he would certainly be glad to see history repeat itself.
“We played these guys last year (on Senior Night),” he said. “If it’s déja vu that we don’t necessarily perform on Senior Night and then go to the final four, I’ll take it again.
“It’s a little bit of a distraction for us on Senior Night. … We can obviously play better, but as long as the seniors enjoyed the night and we understand it’s a bit of a distraction for them, we’ll move on to West Shore (on Wednesday) and Holy Trinity (on Friday).”
Although she didn’t get the goal she was looking for Monday night, Toni Burwell was just happy to be back on the field – especially on Senior Night -- after missing the last four games due to a concussion sustained against Merritt Island. Her play against Heritage also drew praise from Dixon, who said he was happy to see her back on the field as well.
Viera, which went to the Class 6A state semifinals last season, has been playing a tough schedule as it works to try to get back to the final four and beyond.
“We have a bunch of new people on our team, so we’re just building the chemistry and moving forward together,” George said. “It’s going very well.”
That was evident this past weekend when the Hawks went to the MVA Women’s Invitational Showcase Tournament at Montverde Academy and played two of the top-ranked teams, not just in the state, but in the nation.
“The rankings came out the day before the tournament and we played St. John’s Country Day, who was No. 2 in the nation, and then we played Bishop Moore, who was No. 1 in the nation,” Dixon said.
“We lost 4-1 to St. John’s Country Day 4-1, but we missed a penalty and hit the post, so it wasn’t a good reflection of actually how well we played, I thought. They’re obviously a really good team (that has won 11 consecutive state championships).
“We tied Bishop Moore 0-0 the next day. That’s a massive result.
“Our ranking (No. 14 in Class 6A) is one of the highest it’s been at this time of the season based on those games.”
Viera is also ranked 61st in the state, which is higher than any other school in District 7 and third in Region 2.
“The record, you look at it, and you go, ‘Wow, that’s not very good,’” Dixon said. “But the reality is, we’re kind of happy where we are at the moment.”
With two big games against West Shore and Holy Trinity coming up this week, the Hawks have a chance to go into the winter break with a 6-2-2 mark, which would set them up nicely heading into January and then the playoffs.
But on this night, it was all about the seniors and a team that clearly enjoys playing soccer together.
“Viera has definitely turned into a home for all of us,” George said. “To see each other every day just brightens everyone’s moods. These four years have just shown me that you can have any group of girls and as long as they have good chemistry, they can make amazing things out of that.”