After Final Practice, Jenkins Ready For State Championship at Melbourne High
Sat. February 09, 2013 at 2:00 a.m. | By Aimee Sachs
GEORGE JENKINS' Jessie Scarpa and the rest of the Eagles are just one win away from avenging a loss in last year's state title game. (Photo by MICHAEL WILSON | THE LEDGER)
By AIMEE SACHS
LAKELAND | The George Jenkins girls soccer team held its final practice Thursday afternoon — not at home, but at the home field of rival Lakeland.
The Eagles needed to get used to playing on artificial turf, so they practiced at city-owned Bryant Stadium. Today's FHSAA Class 4A state championship game will be played on the same kind of turf at Melbourne High — giving Jenkins' opponent, Melbourne, home-field advantage. Melbourne won the bid to host this year's state finals.
"We're not very comfortable because we've played all year on regular grass," said junior forward Lauren Greene, who is among Polk County's leaders with 41 goals and 20 assists.
Greene is one of seven returning players who experienced heartbreak in last year's title game, when the Eagles fell to Ida Baker 1-0 on a goal in the final minutes.
"We thought that we had it," Greene said. "We went in kind of cocky last year. So this year we lost seven starters, and that pushes us, that makes us want to play even harder to win this."
But with eight seniors gone and a major crop of freshmen and sophomores, last year's state championship game isn't brought up often.
"It was a whole new group with a whole new attitude," second-year coach Marissa Kazbour said. "Everyone's different, so I think you always want to go back, that's for sure."
The Eagles (23-2-1) are riding momentum coming out of their 4-3 regional final win over Fleming Island, when freshman goalkeeper Haleigh Mercer had two clutch saves in a penalty kick tiebreaker.
"This year, everyone just kind of thought we couldn't do it, like, ‘Oh, they lost eight seniors,'?" said junior Jessie Scarpa, who leads the team with 47 goals and 27 assists. "But I think everyone's just worked hard because they know what it feels like to lose and we're just trying to get back and try to win."
The girls raised enough money this week to provide a free bus ride for students to go to Melbourne to cheer the Eagles on.
"I don't even know what to feel right now," Greene said at Thursday's practice. "I'm excited, I'm anxious, I'm nervous. I just can't wait. I just want to play."