The Santa Fe Raiders girls soccer team will take on the Bishop Kenny Crusaders Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. in Jacksonville with a district championship on the line. The Raiders are seeking their second district title in a row.
Winning Streak Sparks Confidence
The Raiders (9-4-1) are riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak into the game against the Crusaders (8-6-1). In the Raiders’ last two regular-season games, they topped Gainesville and Columbia to complete an undefeated home record. Santa Fe Head Coach Ricardo Morales said the victories over the Hurricanes and Tigers showcased the team’s progression and improvement. He said these are two teams the Raiders struggled against early in the season.
Although Morales said he believes the winning streak is a positive morale boost heading into the championship game, he emphasizes the importance of only focusing on the next game ahead.
“We approach training like we’ve never won a game before in our lives and that intensity and urgency translates to our game performances,” Morales added.
Veteran Leadership Drives the Raiders
The Raiders bring experience and maturity to the pitch, with two junior captains as well as five seniors who all lead by example. Freshman forward Hailey Smith leads the Raiders in scoring with 13 goals and two assists this season.
The juniors and seniors know what it takes to succeed at a high level, thanks to the past success of the Santa Fe girls soccer program. According to Morales, the upperclassmen on the roster have mentored the younger players by passing down their soccer knowledge.
Early Loss Prepares the Raiders for Playoffs
At the beginning of the season, the Raiders suffered a tough 4-0 loss to the Buchholz Bobcats. Despite the disappointing outcome, Morales claims they learned more about their team identity than a win could have provided.
“I believe it gave us a good look at the level of competition we were going to be facing and allowed us to set our objectives clear for the development we wanted out of this season,” he said.
Morales affirms the Raiders are aware of the strengths of the competitive Crusaders squad, but they are focusing on the aspects of the game within their control. The Crusaders are led by senior forward Mackenna Gregory, who has posted 11 goals and three assists this season. Morales is encouraging his team to take the game one play at a time.
“We understand the stakes of the final and will rise to the occasion, but at the end of the day, we treat it like any other match.” – Head Coach Ricardo Morales