BRANDON — An own goal less than 10 minutes into the match gave the West Lauderdale girls soccer team the lead before they had even put a shot on target.
Not that they needed it.
In their third-straight championship meeting with Florence, the Lady Knights followed their early 1-0 advantage by scoring four more goals in the opening half to beat the Lady Eagles 5-0 and claim back-to-back 4A State titles, and their fourth in five years, Saturday afternoon at Brandon High School.
“It’s surreal right now. It’s an awesome feeling,” West Lauderdale head coach Alex George said. “These girls stepped up today. I’m so proud of them. We’re going to enjoy it, sit back and relish in the moment because these aren’t easy to come by, and these girls have put in a lot of hard work.”
West Lauderdale (23-1-3) finished its season on a 22-game unbeaten streak, having won its final eight contests, and snapped a nine-game winning streak for Florence (18-4-4), which hadn’t given up a goal during that stretch.
The Lady Knights got on the board in the seventh minute when a cross from senior Lucy Green into the box was kicked into the goal by a Lady Eagles defender trying to clear the attack.
“You’ve got to find a way to score that first goal. We were hoping to score within the first 10 minutes, that was our goal,” George said. “That happened, and we just kept our foot on the gas and we kept making plays, and I think it spoke for itself.”
Less than two minutes later, freshman Bailee Fairley hauled in a pass and scored from close range to put West Lauderdale up 2-0.
In the 13th minute, after a Lady Knights corner kick was deflected out of bounds for a West Lauderdale thrown-in, senior Anna Aviles secured the ball, turned on a dime and fired a shot from 20 yards out that curved right to left and into the net for the Lady Knights’ third tally of the first half.
Junior Alice Williamson followed by corralling a pass from Green and sneaking a shot into the bottom right of the goal to make it 4-0 in the 22nd minute.
After Fairley had a shot blocked, she stole a pass and scored on an open look for her second goal of the day and her squad’s fifth and final mark of the game with less than 10 minutes to play in the first half.
“I’m so happy right now. I finally came out of my shell, and I feel really good about that,” Fairley said. “The first goal got me calm, and it got me in my game and where I normally am.”
West Lauderdale needed just two more goals in the second half, and for the clock to hit the 50th minute, for the mercy rule to be triggered to finish up the 4A championship early, but all 80 minutes were played as the the two squads kept each other out of the net. Florence put four shots on target in the second half and ended with half a dozen overall.
Lady Knights senior goalkeeper Kristin Hayes saved all six shots in the shutout.
“We were getting at it so hard in the first half,” George said. “I was hoping we would maintain the same intensity, but sometimes it’s hard when you’re up like that. But we did what we had to do.”
West Lauderdale finished with 13 of 17 shots on goal. Green, Hayes, Aviles, Railey Mayatt, Anna Claire Nance and Kathryn Knute end their high school soccer careers as three-time state champions.
“To these six seniors, they went off in grand style,” George said. “What more can you ask for?”