Rams display resiliency after tragedy

Eastside is seeking a district title while honoring the memory of Sarah Landauer.

Eastside Rams Audrey Simonne (5) dribbles the ball around Buchholz Bobcats defender Alexis Hunzinger (8) at Citizens Field on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, in Gainesville. Eastside defeated Buchholz 1-0.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 11:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 11:52 p.m.

The Eastside High School girls soccer team enters this week's District 5-3A tournament as the top seed looking for its fourth straight district championship.

The Rams (11-4-3) have been in this position before, but the 2011-12 campaign has been different. This season has been a true test of Eastside's mental and physical toughness, as the Rams have displayed a resiliency and a determined effort that one of the program's top players, Sarah Landauer, would have been proud of.

This season definitely would have a feeling of normalcy if Landauer, a three-time first-team all-area selection, with career numbers of 111 goals and 29 assists, would have been in uniform for her senior year.

But that is not the case.

On March 7, 2011 Landauer collapsed at track practice and died two days later. The tragic news stunned the local high school sports community.

It was also something that could have torn the Rams apart. Instead it has brought the team closer together.

“For me, the overall theme of the season is courage, they have had to have so much courage,” said first-year coach Jenn Richards, a Rams' assistant the last few seasons. “They didn't even have to come and try out and play this season. I don't know how I would have felt if my best friend wasn't there anymore.

“Being able to be that mature, I think that has aided so much in the healing process they have had to go through.”

Their challenging season got off to a rough start when the Rams posted an 0-3-1 mark through their first four games. In one of those home contests against Ocala Trinity Catholic, Eastside honored its fallen star by putting only 10 players on the field for the the first 15 minutes of the match. Landauer wore No. 15 and her jersey number has since been retired. The Rams also wear orange sweat bands with her number on it for each game.

“That was kind of the overtone of the beginning of the season, everyone was a little nervous, a little worried about how we're going to fill that gap,” said senior midfielder Haley Burger, who has nine goals and five assists. “We're one of the only teams that has an angel with us. We have somebody to help us out and helps us come together as a soccer family.”

In Eastside's senior-night win over Suwannee, the scoreboard read 1-5 which was just another reminder of Landauer's presence.

“I don't think I could be any more proud of how much effort and how much heart and passion I see in the team,” said senior Jennifer Kizza, the team's top defender, who has seven goals and two assists. “Of course Sarah had amazing skill, you could look at her stats and see that. She was so much more than that on the field, she had so much drive for the game and I think that is what is maybe carrying on in our team.”

Eastside, which is also looking for its first regional playoff victory since 2002, is led by senior Audrey Simonne's 14 goals and five assists and sophomore Sarah Collings' 10 goals and four assists. Sophomore Jordan Fulkerson also took over as goalkeeper, replacing Grace Chrzanowski, a three-time first-team all-area selection, who graduated.

“I think we have overcome obstacles that obviously other teams haven't,” said senior midfielder Emma London. “I think that we have all become stronger players and people because of it.

“We have all grown closer to each other, and I think that this is a strong group of girls. We all look out for each other and care for each other as much as we ever have before.”

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