WINTER GARDEN The West Orange girls soccer team has made the playoffs for each of the previous three years that its current senior class has been on campus.
But, when the semifinals of the District 5A-4 Tournament last week pitted the team against Olympia — which had defeated the Warriors for the first time in six years back on Nov. 10 — it became clear that a playoff berth was not to be taken for granted.
West Orange (14-4-1) defeated the Titans 3-2 in overtime in that game Jan. 18, two days before topping Apopka 3-1 in the district championship. And, while the victory over the rival Blue Darters delivered the Warriors some welcome hardware in the form of a district championship trophy, it is the game against Olympia the team had to win to earn its playoff berth that may go down as one of the most memorable of the season.
"We just came out and wanted it more," senior Mary Hamm said. "It was an amazing feeling."
For Patrick Moons, in his first year as the program's head coach after spending several seasons alongside former head coach Stan Banks, the leadership of his seniors (Mary Hamm, Bailey Brasse, Caitlin Jablon, Gracie Westerfield and Emma Honis) was key to his team's ability to win a game with such high stakes.
"It was the will of these five seniors that willed this team to win," Moons said. "To beat Olympia in the fashion in which they did, was a hallmark for what we've done and sort of a microcosm for our entire season — coming together at the right time."
The Warriors, who will host Lake Mary Jan. 26 at 7 p.m., are back in the playoffs and are now looking to do something the team has not done since any current roster member has been on campus — advance past the first round.
If West Orange is to do so, Moons says his team will have to continue to lean on its balance of strong senior leaders and talented underclassmen.
"Those five have been a lesson in leadership, hands down," Moons said. "They've been a guiding light for the young group — we carried eight freshmen this year — seven of which have been starting or getting significant minutes."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].