JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It wasn’t so long ago that the Stanton girls soccer team had more losses than wins and weren’t sure if they would see much of the postseason.
At one point in the season, Stanton was 6-7-2. But since the start of the district playoffs, the Blue Devils have won five straight games while outscoring the opposition 19-1 to advance to the Class 4A state semifinals Friday. What’s the difference? It may be all in their heads
Stanton faced one of the more challenging schedules in the area this year, including matches against Bartram Trail, Fleming Island, and Creekside, the last two were the final two games before the district playoffs. That schedule toughened up the Blue Devils, and battle-tested the team for a deep run in the playoffs.
Head coach Brian Heggood said he likes to schedule top teams to test his squad. Last year, the Blue Devils advanced to the regional finals before losing to Gulf Breeze. This year, they’ve taken it a step further. If they beat the defending state champions (Bishop Moore) they’ll earn the school’s first state finals appearance since the 2017 team finished as state runners-up.
Emma Griner paced the attack with 10 goals in nine games, but the defense has led the way. Junior centerback Emma Hoffman is one of the vocal leaders of the team.
“The beginning of the season was a little bumpy. But when we got everyone together and we started becoming more together and uniform, it really made a difference with the team,” Hoffman said. “Then we started getting on a winning streak and becoming more confident with our games. And our schedule has been really difficult this year. So that was also a challenge. We just progressed so much this year.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Savannah Yerger has eight clean sheets in the Blue Devils’ 11 wins. She says the team mentality has allowed for a deep run in the playoffs.
“I feel like our biggest part of our team is our bench because when we are angry with each other on the field, we go to the bench and it’s constant like, ‘Oh, you did amazing. Good job. Congrats. And is everybody like, okay, like you’re doing amazing. It’s fine. Like, don’t listen to what they say you’re doing perfectly. Keep working,’” said Yerger. “It’s a constant boost.”
Stanton’s road to the state semifinals included a 2-1 win over Beachside and shutout wins on Tocoi Creek’s and South Walton’s home pitches.
“We faced a lot of adversities with our harder schedule this year,” Yerger said. “I feel like that just like it’s put like a spark in us that, you know, we’re saying, ‘Oh, we are the underdogs of this bracket.’ And I think nobody else has expected us to go this far, but we expect it to go this far and we hope to even win state.”
While Heggood doesn’t really endorse calling any team an underdog in high school soccer, he does know that if the Blue Devils can continue their strong defense and counter-attacking, they have a chance to knock of the defending champs and match the best season in school history.
“If we play at our best, we have a chance to be really good,” Heggood said.
And as long as they keep the right mentality, the Blue Devils should have a chance.
“The biggest thing I always tell the team before game days is just to have fun, relax, just play as a team,” Hoffman said. “Don’t get frustrated with each other because even if you’re down or by a goal or whatever, the most important thing is to just stay calm and like keep playing as a team.”
The winner of Friday’s match will face either American Heritage or McKeel Academy on Wednesday in the state championship game in DeLand.