Bartram Trail girls soccer coach Jen West didn’t doubt the task facing the Bears against national number-one St. Johns Country Day.
“Their midfield is the best I’ve seen around,” she said.
They proved it again.
That midfield, with a little help from a defender advancing from the back, made the difference in the Spartans’ 4-1 victory over Bartram Trail, a rare Monday afternoon clash at Bear Stadium.
The Spartans’ staggering streaks - 60 wins, 73 games unbeaten and 1,104 days without a loss - turned into 61, 74 and 1,105.
Abbey Newton, Payton Crews, Payton Walton and Alisa Detlefsen scored second-half goals for St. Johns (17-0-0), the top-ranked in the USA Today/United Soccer Coaches national poll and the holder of six consecutive Class 1A state championships.
But the Bears didn’t go down easily, holding firm for 50 minutes with six saves from goalkeeper Julie Arciprete and a string of tackles by Taylor Radecki and Ella Dudley.
Then St. Johns found the key: Moving Detlefsen, a seasoned senior noted for her ball-striking talents, up from the back four to add creativity to a midfield that wasn’t converting possession into goals.
“We put Abbey high and pushed A.D. [Detlefsen] into the outside left spot with Payton [Crews] outside right, so we could get some one-on-ones,” Spartans coach Mike Pickett said. “We did a pretty good job of that the last 20 minutes.”
It paid off fast. Newton, the LSU-committed midfielder, dashed through three Bears and drove a hard low shot in the 51st minute for the 124th goal of her Spartans career.
Bartram Trail struck back at once to tie the score when Maddie DeFranco lunged to finish off a delivery from the left wing.
But in the 56th minute, St. Johns climbed back in front when Crews blasted a first-time shot from the right corner of the box.
“With their attacking movement, they’re kind of criss-crossing all over the field,” West said. “We tended to lose them a little bit, and that cost us some goals today.”
Detlefsen, who had been involved in the buildup to the second goal, then set up the third with a chipped 35-yard free kick finished off by fullback Walton.
She scored the fourth herself on a 25-yard shot after cutting inside from the left flank.
The teams were originally scheduled to play last Friday, but soft field conditions forced a postponement. Late-season non-district contests often aren’t made up, but with both teams planning for potential playoff tests to come, this one was an exception.
“You want those last few games before the playoffs to be athletic, hard-nosed teams,” Pickett said.
St. Johns Country Day plays Clay and Creekside before beginning its district campaign next week.
For Bartram Trail (10-3-3), meanwhile, the loss wasn’t without its benefits.
“It was good to see how we compare and how we could handle their strengths,” West said. “Obviously, they’re strong all over the field.”
Every 80 minutes of top-class experience helps the Bears, who enter a brutally tough District 4-4A tournament next Monday. District foes include 2017 Class 4A runner-up Creekside, perennial power Fleming Island and a Nease squad ranked 16th in the nation by MaxPreps. Only two of those four can qualify for the playoffs.
“We were excited to play them,” West said. “It’s a good challenge, and we never back down to any challenge.”