A team that hadn’t lost in two months needed a win Wednesday night and couldn’t get it.
Nease was held to a 1-1 draw against Bartram Trail in the final District 4-4A girls soccer contest for both squads. The Panthers (13-2-1, 4-1-1) needed a win to secure the top seed in the upcoming district tournament, while the Bears (10-2-3, 5-0-2) only needed to avoid defeat.
Bartram’s Tori Grambo opened the scoring in the 47th minute. Nease equalized 10 minutes later when Logan Nicholson slammed home Bella Kober’s cross from the left.
“We showed really well,” said Bartram Trail fullback Ella Dudley. “We decided before the game that we would come together. We said if we persevere, we’ll have success.”
Nease beat Bartram Trail 4-2 in the final of the St. Johns River Athletic Conference tournament on Dec. 7. Temperatures were cold, the field was slick and it rained for most of that contest. Wednesday night, the field at Bartram Trail High School was slick, and players slipped at times, but the conditions were favorable for keeping the ball on the ground.
Outside of a trio of half-chances that were created in the first three minutes of the game, Bartram Trail spent the majority of the first half keeping the ball on the ground and playing quick soccer in Nease’s defensive third.
Bartram Trail forward Maddie DeFranco’s shot in the 22nd minute was collected by Nease goalie Chloe Rush. The sophomore shot-stopper made two more stops, each more impressive than its predecessor to help the game remain scoreless at intermission.
“I thought the first half, it was not Nease soccer,” said Panthers head coach Jay Shepherd. “It was not the way we played and not the energy we have. The girls continued to battle and battle until we could get to halftime and reset.”
Nease captains Sydney Washington, Dani Anderson and Reaghan Hatcher addressed the team.
“It was a Come to Jesus,” Nicholson said. “They wanted it more than us. They wanted the first seed and they got it. We came out in the second 40 minutes stronger than we ever have.”
Shortly after halftime, the Panthers dropped Kober into the No. 10 role in the team’s 4-2-3-1 system. It allowed her more time and touches on the ball.
The tweak was rewarded when she received the ball from Anderson down the left, dribbled past a Bears defender and floated a cross for Nicholson to volley into the net from close range.
Neither team found the game-winner. Bartram’s best effort came in the waning seconds when DeFranco’s shot from close-range was saved by Rush.
When the district tournament begins later this month, two superb soccer teams will be eliminated. While the top seed doesn’t guarantee anything, it does provide one advantage in the seven-team tournament — rest.
Bartram Trail will be the No. 1 seed. Nease is the second seed because the Panthers beat Creekside (9-3-4, 4-1-1) last month. Fleming Island (8-4, 4-2) is slated to be the fourth seed.
“The top four teams, it wouldn’t matter if you’re the first seed, you’re still going to have to knock someone off in the semifinal,” said Bartram Trail coach Jen West. “To have the bye, another day of rest and training before the semifinal, that will be an advantage.”
Nease is unbeaten in 13 matches, while the Bears are unbeaten in their last four.
Both will have those streaks put to the test Friday night as Nease travels to Ponte Vedra and Bartram Trail hosts the No. 1 team in America, St. Johns Country Day.