Bobcats breaking through

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Buchholz High School girls soccer coach Ron Messick had seen a disappointing pattern emerge in the last three seasons.

In each of those years, the Bobcats advanced to the district final, only to be defeated by Jacksonville Mandarin. Buchholz then traveled to Orange Park to face Spruce Creek in the regional quarterfinals and was knocked out by the Hawks all three times.

"As a coach, it's pretty frustrating," Messick said. "But I feel more frustrated for the kids. They deserved better results than what we had. Soccer can be a cruel sport."

On paper, the 2006-07 season looked to be a rebuilding year, as the team lost eight seniors from the previous season and had eight freshmen on the varsity squad this year. But Messick knew that this team could be competitive.

"Coaching club allows me to know a little about the team coming in," Messick said. "Athletically, I knew we were going to be there." He added that the biggest challenge from a coaching standpoint was getting all the new players to buy into his system and getting everybody on the same page.

The results speak for themselves. In the District 1-6A championship game against Mandarin, Buchholz overcame three years of frustration to win 3-1, earning the right to play at home in the first round of regionals.

"Losing to Mandarin (the last three years) wasn't about skill," said junior co-captain Allie Bullard, who was the team's MVP last year. "It was all mental."

The Bobcats (17-3-3) had a chance to exorcise more postseason demons in the regional quarterfinals, as Spruce Creek was their first opponent yet again. But this time, Buchholz beat the Hawks 3-1 to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003.

"Personally, it was the best feeling in the world," Bullard said. "We're young and we're going against all odds. It was very satisfying."

Messick and Bullard agreed that one of the biggest differences between this year's team and Buchholz teams of the past has been the team chemistry.

"I think the chemistry has been superior to a lot of teams in the past," Messick said. "We all look to each other to help each other out."

Said Bullard: "This year, everyone's just so happy for each other. It's amazing, because it's one less thing you have to worry about."

Some might find it surprising that a team could lose so many seniors, have so many freshmen coming in and have better team chemistry than it did in the past. Part of the reason everyone gets along so well is because many of the younger girls have played club ball with the older girls.

"We've all just kind of grown up together," said freshman Lauren Hyden, who had a goal and an assist in the win over Spruce Creek. "It was a lot easier, because we already had chemistry." Hyden added that it can be intimidating being a freshman on the varsity squad, but everyone made the freshmen feel welcome, including seniors Jackie Curran, Corey Greer and Kristina Soderstrom.

"All three of them were really great, even at school," Hyden said. "Their leadership on the field has also been a huge help."

Although the freshmen are happy that they have been able to come in and contribute, the focus is making this season special for the seniors. Buchholz will have a chance to reach the regional finals for the first time since 2000. But first, the Bobcats will have to beat a Lake Mary team that was the 6A runner-up last year and has only lost one game this year.

"We're looking forward to the challenge," Messick said.

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