PALM HARBOR — No girls soccer senior class has ever left Palm Harbor University without making at least one trip to the state final four.
That run of excellence will continue after Saturday's commanding 3-1 region final win over visiting Lakeland George Jenkins (9-6-2).
“It's crazy because we haven't ever been here,” said Mackenzie Geier, part of the Hurricanes' experienced corps of seniors that powered Saturday's victory. “We lost my freshman year at this stage, so our goal has always been the road to states. We made it and we've been working really hard. It's an indescribable feeling because it's just been so long since we've even been in this position.”
Geier quickly helped get PHU (16-0-5) on the board Saturday by assisting on a goal headed in by fellow senior Katie Im during the 4th minute.
“We always like to come out really fast so we can get ahead of them so everyone can take a deep breath and find their zone and not be nervous,” Geier said.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium Saturday, with the majority of the match played between the teams' 18s. A total of 12 shots, six on frame, were attempted all day.
The Eagles netted their lone goal in the 26th minute to tie the match at 1-1. Lauren Greene converted a 20-yard free kick that gave George Jenkins a boost – albeit brief – of momentum.
A minute later Kayla Mouton was putting PHU back on top with an impressive display of speed and finishing ability. The junior outran the entire Eagles back line, shook a final defender and sent a perfectly struck ball by keeper Haleigh Mercer.
“She positions herself well and when she gets in to join the attack it's deceiving how quick she actually is,” said John Planamenta, making his sixth final-four trip as PHU head coach. “And then finishing to the far post was nice. A couple times before when she's gotten opportunities she hasn't been able to finish it.”
Answering the equalizer so quickly gave PHU a feeling that the day was its to seize, Geier said. “I think that showed that we weren't hanging our heads and we were still confident.”
Geier, part of PHU's rock-solid defense, got herself into the offensive action again in the first half. She capped the afternoon's scoring in the 34th minute, dropping a 35-yard free kick into the back of the net.
“I saw it was too close to try and chip it,” she said. “We've been practicing this kind of play for weeks and I went for it.
“It's the first goal I've ever scored in high school and I'm a senior, so it's a crazy feeling. I don't get to feel that a lot.”
In addition to Geier's pair of well-placed strikes, Planamenta commended the play of defender Quinn Lombard. He tasked the senior captain with marking Greene, her VSI West Florida Flames club soccer teammate.
“To mark [Laura Greene] and the way she marked her smart, with no fouls; she's such an incredible player,” Planamenta said of Lombard.
The Hurricanes were never seriously threatened the rest of the way after going up 3-1.
PHU's last trip to states came in 2010, which ended in the Hurricanes' fifth-and-final championship.
Standing in PHU's way now will be Vero Beach next Friday in Melbourne at Eastern Florida State College. The other semifinal pits Flagler Palm Coast against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas.
Next week's semifinal – PHU's 10th final-four entrance as a program – will be a rematch of a 2011 Class 6A region final won 1-0 by Vero Beach.
“It was to Vero Beach then and now we're going to play them again,” Geier said of her last game of freshman year. “Hopefully we can win it this time.”
26' – Laura Greene – Goal
Palm Harbor University (16-0-5)
4' – Katie Im – Goal (Assist: Mackenzie Geier)
27' – Kayla Mouton – Goal
34' – Mackenzie Geier – Goal