For each of the past two seasons, the Venice High girls soccer team has seen winning seasons end in early disappointment in the playoffs.
From some crucial injuries to playing too many matches on the road, the cards haven’t been stacked in the Indians’ favor as of late. But despite this, Venice and coach Gary Bolyard are feeling optimistic about their chances in 2018.
“We have 15 players. We’re light,” Bolyard said. “We usually carry 18-20. The numbers weren’t there this year, but it’s not a big deal. We have 15 girls here that we don’t even have to blink. We can pull anyone on the field and they’re gonna perform.
“We haven’t had that in the past, there’s always been a dropoff. But we’re comfortable with every single player, and it’s exciting.”
Bolyard saw 10 of his players from last season graduate in the spring, and even with less depth than he’s used to, he said his youthful team is brimming with talent.
One of the players he feels particularly good about is junior Kat Jordan, who recently committed to play soccer for Columbia University.
A co-captain and a top goal scorer for Venice last year as a sophomore, Jordan is excited about the youth and potential of the Indians this season. But perhaps even more than that, she’s looking forward to the chance to play Estero — the team that knocked Venice out of the playoffs in 2017.
She and the Indians will get that chance soon, with a home match against the Wildcats on Nov. 17.
“Probably Estero because of last year,” Jordan said on which team she’s most excited to face. “All of them are really competitive, but last year they were the ones who kicked out the regional tournament. So we’re really excited to play them again.”
The optimism seems to be contagious among the Indians.
When it comes to the season goals for senior Sydney Ayette, who missed last year with a torn ACL, the expectations are lofty.
“I want a district title this year and a regional title, and hopefully a state title,” Ayette said.
Jordan was quick to agree.
“This team is very hard working,” she said. “Really our goal is to go all the way. I think we can.”
Aside from losing 10 senior players, a big difference for the Venice girls soccer team in 2018 is the homefield advantage for the Indians.
With the Venice football team playing deep into December and track renovations done at Powell-Davis Stadium, the girls soccer team was able to play in just two home matches the entire season, according to Bolyard.
This season, Bolyard estimates that his team will get to play 11 home matches, and hopes his team can earn some home field advantage for the playoffs as well.
“We have to win districts, that’s our thing,” Bolyard said. “We need to be playing on our home field and staying there through the playoffs. That’s key.”
Standing in Venice’s way the past two seasons has been Braden River and North Port, which have won each of the past two district titles.
However, the Indians – led by Bolyard in his 10th season and three women assistants who each played collegiate soccer — think it’s this year to take the district title, and perhaps even more, beginning with a match at Lakewood Ranch on Tuesday.
“We’re very young, but we have some serious talent,” Bolyard said. “We have some players who really play at a high level, and we’re really excited about this season.
“We’re not gonna be happy just going to the playoffs, we want to go far this year.”