No matter how good of a team you are, you will be tested — those were Windermere Prep boys soccer coach Jonathan Griffiths’ words to his team Friday afternoon.
The scoreboard in the corner of the end zone read 4-2 in Windermere Prep’s favor over All Saints Academy in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference state final Friday, Jan. 17.
Despite the lopsided score the game was much tighter — especially in the first half — and Griffiths made note of the significance of the late season test in the team’s post-match breakdown.
“Listen up — it’s the first time all year that we have been challenged,” Griffiths said. “It’s going to be a battle if you want to win district — it’s going to be like that. You have to keep working hard all game… you have to keep up momentum now.”
Coming into Friday’s title game the Lakers (12-0) had been dominating all season — outscoring opponents 77-10 — and sat at a perfect 11-0 thanks to talent in every position on the field.
And right out of the gate it seemed as though the Lakers would once again steamroll their way to an easy win and the program’s first SSAC boys soccer title, when less than three minutes in senior Gunnar Studenhofft was taken down in the box — leading to a penalty kick. Unexpectedly, however, Studenhofft’s shot missed wide and left the game knotted at 0-0 early.
It wouldn't take the Lakers long to regain composure as just a minute-and-a-half later Studenhofft once again find himself in scoring position, but his shot would careen off the hands of the Saints’ goalie before junior Jose Lopez headed the ball into the back of the net to give Windermere Prep the early 1-0 advantage in the fifth minute of play.
Over the course of the next 28 minutes the Lakers only found another chance or two, while the Saints finally began to settle into the game before finding the push they needed.
“It’s going to be a battle if you want to win district — it’s going to be like that. You have to keep working hard all game… you have to keep up momentum now.”
— Jonathan Griffiths, Lakers head coach
With 12:02 left in the half, the Saint were able to break through Windermere Prep’s backline as senior Charles Rodes snuck a ball past goalie Carlo Moran to tie the game up at 1-1. That score would hold until halftime, and it was then when the feeling of the game changed.
“It was tough,” Griffiths said. “We had been dominating possession in the first 20 minutes, so when they came back to 1-1 it kind of shifted momentum to the other side. We needed to battle and make sure we were doing our defensive work, because we have talent up top, but we need to make sure we are defending well first and then go and press and get the goals.”
The Saints continued their momentum coming out of the locker room with a chance on goal less than two minutes into the half, but the Lakers responded accordingly when Studenhofft scored the first of his three goals in the half a minute later to push Windermere Prep back in front at 2-1.
By the 63rd minute, Studenhofft had collected his hat trick to give the Lakers the comfortable 4-1 lead — which was helped by a change of strategy, Griffiths said.
“Second half we played a lot quicker going forward, rather than possessing sideways and backwards,” Griffiths said. “We played two up top — we changed formation second half, so that kind of helped us because they had the two guys marking Gunnar and then putting that extra guy up top kind of confused them.”
The Lakers would concede one last goal by Jackson Gurr in added time, but by then the game was already sealed and Windermere Prep had finally won the SSAC in three years of trying.
The win is a big one for the program, but the season is far from over for the Lakers. There’s still three games left in the regular season, and then it’s time for district play, as well as the FHSAA state tourney.
There is a lot to take away from Friday’s game, but there were two things that stood out to Griffiths as the season marches toward its end.
“I take away that in the second half we played as a team — we were all on the same game plan,” Griffiths said. “And then keeping everybody healthy is going to be the big factor for us, because we have a lot flair players up top, so keeping our attackers healthy will definitely help us when we go into the postseason.”