The high school soccer season is just over two weeks old, but it already seems like nothing can slow down the Lady Indians.
Missing three key starters in Kiki Slattery, Rachel Dalton and Ashton Pennell, who were away playing in a college showcase, Venice (6-0) still held off district foe Braden River, 2-0, at Powell-Davis Stadium to preserve its undefeated record on Thursday night.
“We didn’t finish early in the game,” Venice head coach Gary Bolyard said. “You let a team hang around and they just gain so much confidence. We bury goals in the beginning of the game that we should have, and it’s a different game.”
While the Indians may have started slow on Thursday night, their start to the season has been anything but that. Along with an undefeated record, Venice owns a 35-2 goal differential across just six matches and has posted five straight shutouts.
The key to success for Venice has been its ability to get big games from different players each night.
Without Dalton and Slattery to help move the ball on offense against Braden River, freshman Victoria Gaona put her skills on display — heading in the Indians first goal off a corner kick and scoring again in the closing minutes.
The shots marked Gaona’s fifth and sixth goals of the young season, and it’s clear that the freshman is fitting in well at the varsity level.
Though Gaona was caught in awkward spots before each of her two goals, she used her knack for heading the ball — and a little luck — to lead Venice to victory.
“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true,” Gaona said on her quick start at the varsity level. “I was unsure about making varsity, but I made it. I love heading the ball and scoring.
“The first goal was actually with my ear. I did a spin and I hit it with my ear. But it’s OK because it went in. Getting the second goal, from where I came, I just kicked it with the outside of my foot and leaned over and boom — right in the top of the corner.”
But the win might not have been possible if not for the Indians’ defensive efforts.
Playing with several underclassmen on defense, Venice has used exceptional speed and teamwork to give opponents trouble getting an open look at the net.
After allowing four shots on goal in the first half, Venice tightened up in the second half, allowing just one shot on goal from the Pirates while the Indians controlled possession.
While the win earned Venice its first district victory of the season, it also shows how far the Indians have come since the end of last season.
Venice was knocked out of the playoffs after losing the district championship game to Braden River, 3-1, and losing to Estero in the regional quarterfinals, 3-1.
Already this season, the Indians have defeated Estero, 8-0, by mercy-rule and the Pirates with Thursday night’s victory.
“It says something,” Bolyard said of beating Braden River and Estero. “We’ve set some high goals for these girls and they’re achieving them so far.
“I think it’s the different girls that are contributing and stepping up every night. Tonight was a little shaky, but every night someone contributes.”