None of them will say it publicaly, but there is a sense in the northern part of St. Johns County that whoever survives this week’s District 4-4A girls soccer tournament has a very good chance of making an extended run in the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs.
The seven-team tournament begins tonight with games at Creekside, Nease and Fleming Island. No. 1 seed Bartram Trail awaits the quarterfinal winners in what may be an unforgettable Wednesday of varsity soccer.
Creekside sophomore Delaney Tauzel is excited to get things started.
“It’s really fun since I know all of them and how good they are. I can warn my team. It’s fun to play against them because I’m always playing with them at club.”
In order for the Knights to make Wednesday’s semifinals free-for-all, they will have to beat St. Augustine. The Yellow Jackets closed the regular season with an 8-0 loss to Menendez on Friday night — a result that would have been even more lopsided had senior goalkeeper Sam Ryan not made a series of strong saves.
St. Augustine (6-11-1) has won more games this year than in the two previous seasons combined. If all goes to plan, Monday’s quarterfinal may be the least eventful part of Jackets coach Parker Raimann’s week.
“I have a group of girls who work hard,” Raimann said. “They are open to coaching. They work together really well. They are positive athletes.”
Creekside (10-4-4) was a state finalist last year and has a half dozen girls who helped their club team advance to the national championships last summer. Nease (16-2-1) is unbeaten in its last 16 matches. Bartram Trail (11-3-4) is the top seed and the only team to tie the Panthers in the last two months.
“It’s one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive, districts (in the state.),” Raimann said. “In the county alone, you have Creekside, Bartram and Nease and then you have Fleming Island. Oakleaf has come a long way.”
Fleming Island is the fourth seed. The Golden Eagles (10-6) have beaten Nease and Ponte Vedra.
St. Johns Country Day coach Mike Pickett has seen three of the top four teams in the district. The Spartans — ranked No. 1 in the U.S. by USAToday and Maxpreps.com and No. 2 by United Soccer Coaches — beat Creekside 3-1 last week and Bartram Trail 4-1 on Martin Luther King Day. They also handled Oakleaf in December. Pickett and the Spartans did not play Nease, but some of the Panthers’ best players, midfielder Brielle Jabot and forward Bella Kober, play for Pickett’s club team.
“There is a lot of talent. Bartram has great technical players and speed. Creekside is super scrappy. They are all organized,” Pickett said. “When you’re organized, scrappy and you have speed, you’re a dangerous team when you keep the ball.”
Few teams understand that more than the Knights. Creekside squared off against Nease in the District 4-4A semifinals last year. Nease led more than 50 minutes, but couldn’t put the game away because Creekside’s midfield maintained and recycled possession long enough to create opportunities.
Creekside equalized. The match went to overtime. Creekside scored the game-winner on a set piece. Nease’s season was over. Three weeks later, the Knights were in the state title game and the Panthers were left wondering what-if.
“This year the teams are close and competitive,” said Creekside coach Brent Johnson. “Minor differences are going to set things apart. That usually comes down to set pieces, errors in the back and being able to defend well under pressure. Each team brings (its) own element to the tournament, which makes it challenging. It will be fun.”