Bartram Trail led twice, but could not hold off the Eagles in a Class 4A girls soccer state semifinal.
Robbie Aristodemo believes that when varsity soccer is at its best, it is superior to the club level.
He wasn’t quite ready to crown Friday night’s match as the best of varsity soccer; but Montverde’s girls soccer coach was more than appreciative of the technical abilities of the 22 girls who took the field in a FHSAA Class 4A state semifinal.
Bartram Trail had quality in all thirds but not enough to eliminate the nationally Eagles. Jody Brown’s hat trick was enough to send Montverde to a 4-2 win.
“We lost to a better team,” said Bartram Trail forward Maddie DeFranco. “We played our butts off and we gave it everything we could. We left it on the field and I am so proud.”
Bartram Trail (16-4-4) led twice.
Sophomore Tori Grambo got her head onto Taylor Radecki’s long throw in. Her shot bounced onto the ground and into the near corner just five minutes in. Before the Bears could exhale, Montverde freshman Bryiah Drayton responded 85 seconds later to equalize.
Each team’s tactics were clear through seven minutes. Montverde (20-1) would possess, pass and probe for openings in defense. Bartram would try to hit in the counterattack and take advantage of set piece opportunities.
In the 12th that’s what happened. DeFranco took a corner kick and Grambo was once again first to the ball. The sophomore scored her 18th goal of the season to give the home underdogs a 2-1 lead.
“It’s important. If we don’t respond and they have their energy up, a team as good as them will destroy other teams. It was back and forth,” Grambo said.
But after Grambo’s second, Montverde began to exert more and more pressure. The Bears retreated further and further toward their goal. There was a 12 minute stretch where Montverde center backs Adriana Ordonez and Cecilie Nielsen were routinely five yards ahead of the midfield line.
That dominance paid dividends just before halftime when Brown scored her first. Montverde’s left winger isolated a Bears fullback, drifted inside and snatched her shot to the near post past Bartram goalkeeper Julie Arciprete in the 38th minute.
Bartram Trail soccer coach Jen West said it would have given her team an obvious advantage to get into halftime with the lead. Once Brown’s goal went in, it gave the visitors the momentum.
“Her touch was incredible. Her touch was fantastic. Her speed was unstoppable. She was a difference-maker in that game. She got free. She won her individual battles with her speed. She is a good player.”
Brown started the match at center forward. But, it was once she was moved to the left wing she became unplayable. Brown scored two against Melbourne in a Region 2-4A semifinal and two more on Tuesday night in a regional final win over Mitchell. Friday, she scored her second in the 48th minute when she was afforded space on the left.
Five minutes later, Brown had her hat trick as she finished off a ball that was played directly into her path by midfielder Shayla Smart.
Brown does not say much. But, with her touch she didn’t have to. She said her speed allowed her to get behind the Bears.
“The composure was the best part of our game,” Aristodemo said. “We had a lot of possession. That was our plan: Keep the ball, move, get some gaps and get in.”
Montverde’s coach praised the Bears for the technical ability and their strength on set pieces. Afterward, he said he told his players to not clear the ball into touch on their half of the field because Radecki’s throw-ins and free kicks as well as the threat Grambo provided could give them trouble.
Montverde became just the third team to beat the Bears at home in the last two seasons. As was the case with Creekside’s girls last year, and St. Johns Country Day’s girls this year, the Eagles will play for the state championship. Montverde advances to the Feb. 23 final against Estero (25-2-1) in DeLand.
Friday’s loss was the final varsity game for seniors DeFranco, Nicole Wynn, Jade Sparks and Allison Felts. All four were four-year members of the varsity who helped the Bears win a pair of district titles and advance to the school’s second state semifinal.
As devastated as the Bears were when the three whistles arrived to end the match, the tears were shortly replaced by giggles about the time they had together.
“They are special. You have certain groups who are just special,” West said. “Not only with their leadership, (but) they all (brought) different qualities to the team. They were such a good combination. The girls respected them. They looked up to them. They played for them.”