JACKSONVILLE – St. Johns Country Day School’s girls soccer team, circa 2019, has had quite the target on their backs after seven straight state titles and 10 titles total under coach Mike …
JACKSONVILLE – St. Johns Country Day School’s girls soccer team, circa 2019, has had quite the target on their backs after seven straight state titles and 10 titles total under coach Mike Pickett.
“How do you replace 500 career goals in a four year span?,” said Pickett, prior to entering 2019 with a gauntlet of finishing games that included a hard-fought 3-2 post-holiday win over 2A champion Bolles on Tues., Jan. 8. “We lost to a 4A champion and a 4A Final Four team before the holiday, had two games cancelled for weather and used junior varsity players in our final game against Ridgeview. We haven’t played in about month.”
Prior to the losses December 7 to Archbishop McCarthy and December 8 to Montverde Academy, the last time St. Johns lost in regular season play was in 2014-15; to Creekside (3-0 Jan. 6, 2015) and,
ironically, to Bolles (3-0 Dec. 15, 2014).
In 2018, Pickett saw an unbeaten class (26-0, 25-0, 23-0-1) of players graduate led by Gatorade’s best Abbey Newton, now at LSU, and enhanced with an impressively unique teammate support squad.
All as college freshmen, Kirsten Pavlisko won an NCAA title at FSU, Payton Crews started at TCU before a knee injury, Alisa Detlefsen started at Troy and Anna Carrico saw playing time at Division II Cedarville. The super six left Pickett in a precarious situation come 2019 with arguably just two key returners from 2018; Kamy Loustau and Payton Walton, the best throw-in specialist in Florida. Goalie Maddie Wilkes, a senior, returns after serving as goalie though her strength is as a softball player for St. Johns.
“We’re young and we have six games before the playoffs,” said Pickett. “We give them so much information about soccer execution and I think the young players may be overthinking what we are doing. Against Montverde (4A champions, beat St. Johns 2-1), I thing we had a seventh grader, eighth grader and freshman up top the whole game. We have 19 players sophomores or less.”
Besides Loustau and Towers, Pickett has the younger sisters of Clay Today Player of the Year Peyton Crews; Paige and Paxton, sophomore returner Lauren Weiss on one sideline and Wilkes to build with.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s night at Bolles, where St. Johns almost drew first blood with Walton landing one of her patented long throw-ins to the head of Loustau sitting in front of the Bolles goal. The header went over the top of the crossbar, but St. Johns was looking like they were set to battle in the clash of champions opener.
Bolles responded quickly with the near-miss with striker Isabel Kimberly flashing past the Spartan defense the length of the left sideline and rifling a goal past Wilkes with just seven minutes off the clock.
St. Johns kept the pressure on with four unanswered shots on goal through the first half with Loustau a half step ahead of Towers on a sideline break with a cross pass in front of the net that was just out of Tower’s reach.
St. Johns powered to a 1-1 tie with a downtown home run shot from freshman Hannah Lemieux from about 30 yards out left of the goal that ignited the Spartan bench with 7:24 to halftime.
“That was the goal of the year right there,” said Pickett. “A big time shot in a big game.”
Three minutes later, St. Johns struck again with Towers taking a second Loustau feed from the right corner this time that she blasted head on from 13 yards to put the Spartans up 2-1.
“I use Kamy Loustau to move the ball and her position will change depending on the defense,” said Pickett, who had a 12-8 shots on goal advantage. “She’s our most experienced player out there and takes charge of the flow. I moved her in the last 15 minutes.”
In the second half, Bolles was quick to pounce on the offensive end of the field as a save from Wilkes was not captured nor cleared and the Lady Bulldogs pushed the loose ball into the net to tie the game at 2-2 at the 33:10 to go mark.
Both teams battled for nearly 10 minutes before Loustau took free kick from Towers this time and finished the set play with a header for the go ahead goal at 24:00. Bolles would get two corner kicks in the final six minutes, but could not get the tying goal.
“This was a signature win to launch us into the playoffs,” said Pickett, after the Bolles win. “This was the win we needed to show these kids that they can play at this level. I always worry, but a win like this helps.”
Pickett, 10-2, 4-0 in district 2-1A, continues his surge to the playoffs with game against 1A-University Christian (Jan. 10), 4A-Oakleaf (Jan. 15), at 1A-St. Francis (Jan. 16), 4A-Leon (Jan. 18, 9-1-2) and 4A-Creekside (Jan. 22, 6-3-2, 2017 runnerups).
“We have to learn to score more goals,” said Pickett. “The confidence to take the risks and go forward is something the previous girls did well.”