Lady Longhorns district champs
News-Gazette Photo/Åndrew Sullivan Harmony’s Sage Leffew races past Celebration defender Courtney Morgan (3) and prepares to shoot during the Lady Longhorns 6-2 victory at the 5A-9 district tournament at St. Cloud Wednesday.
Leffew’s hat trick propels Harmony
By Rick Pedone
Harmony defeated Ridge Community, 2-0, Friday to earn the 5A-9 girls district soccer championship at St. Cloud.
The Lady Longhorns, 11-3-1, will host Jupiter Thursday in the regional quarterfinals. Ridge Community will go to 5A-10 champion Vero Beach.
Harmony advanced to the girls soccer regionals for the fifth year in a row after overcoming pesky Celebration, 6-2, at the 5A-9 semifinals Wednesday.
Ridge Community held off St. Cloud, 6-4, in the semifinals.
Sage Leffew scored three goals Wednesday to lead the Lady Longhorns, the tournament’s No. 1 seed. Celebration, 9-6-3, tied the score at 1-1 and 2-2 in the first half and trailed by only one goal, 3-2, at the half.
Harmony Coach Stephanie Jones said her team, which won its fourth consecutive district championship Friday, better play much better at the regionals than it did against Celebration.
“We came out lackadaisical, like we knew that we had gone through the whole season without giving up a goal in the district. That’s how we played,” Jones said. “Give Celebration credit. They came out and played with a lot of intensity. They wanted it more than we did.”
Leffew, off an assist from Sarah White, scored from 10 yards to put the Horns ahead, 1-0, 6:27 into the match, but Celebration forward Sophia Perez made a terrific run from midfield and scored four minutes later to tie the score.
Leffew countered from the top of the box 26 minutes into the game to put Harmony up by 2-1, but Celebration tied it again when Perez fed Sophia Graves with 6:31 left in the half. Three minutes later, Leffew’s header off a feed from Breana Plattner made it 3-2.
Leffew used the same term as her coach, lackadaisical, to describe Harmony’s first-half performance.
“We all could have played better. We did in the second half,” she said.
Leffew, who returned to the Horns for her senior year after playing club soccer last season, said that scoring the hat trick was fun.
“Yeah, anytime you can score a goal, that’s good,” she said.
Leffew will sign a soccer grant to Northwestern State, La., next month. She scored Harmony’s first goal Friday against Ridge.
Harmony asserted itself in the second half, scoring three goals and holding Celebration to few shots on goal.
White boomed in a shot from 20 yards out to give Harmony a 4-2 advantage 2:39 into the second half, and Jessica Fandino cleaned up from in front of the goal to make it 5-2 11 minutes later. Plattner wrapped up the scoring with 17:50 left.
Jones said that the regional competition from District 5A-10 will be at a high level, and her team must come prepared to play Thursday.
“One thing that we teach our girls is to play with no regrets,” she said. “I’m confident that we will give a much better effort at the regional. They understand what the situation is. The teams from that district (5A-10) are extremely good. Vero Beach we have seen and they got us by a couple of goals, and then Jupiter beat them. No matter what team comes from that district, it’s not going to be easy. That being said, are they capable of being beaten? Certainly they are, but we will have to play much better.”
Celebration Coach Ed Kuzma lauded his team’s effort.
“I don’t know what to say. No one had scored on Harmony all year in the district. My girls played hard, I’m very proud of their effort,” Kuzma said. “We went to camp with (Harmony) last summer and played with those girls. We picked up a few things from them, like their toughness, and then having Coach Jones say encouraging things about our players, that is a very positive indicator for the future of our program.”
St. Cloud, 14-2, led Ridge Community, 1-0, on Brittney Luthur’s goal at the half Wednesday before the Bolts exploded for five goals early in the second half to go up, 5-1. But, St. Cloud, who had won 12 straight matches, countered with three quick goals late in the half to pull close before the Bolts added an insurance goal.
The Lady Bulldogs beat Ridge, 3-2, in December.