SEBRING — Sebring’s Phoebe Lackey has been a versatile leader for the Blue Streak soccer team this season. She has been a rock who can play any position with great skill and ease. Lackey has been a starter her entire high school career. She has accumulated 24 goals and 32 assists in four years and was a captain for the past two years.

“Phoebe is not only a role model for our team but for any team or person she comes in contact with,” said coach and father T.C. Lackey. “She leads by example and plays with utter passion. She knew I expected no less than her best efforts and she never failed to impress. She has been a very versatile player throughout her career. She has been an extraordinary player and a captain the last two years.”

For her versatility and skills, Lackey has been selected as the Highlands News-Sun 2019 All-Highlands Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

“It honestly means a lot to me to be selected as Player of the Year,” said Phoebe Lackey. “The fact that someone chose me to be it is very rewarding. I am still deciding between two schools for college. I don’t think I am going to play soccer in college because I need a break. I want to figure out what I am going to do with my life before I jump back into sports. I have been playing since I was 3 and I am 17 now so it has been my whole life. My siblings and I all play and it has been a lot of fun. My favorite part is the games but I really love the people. Everyone always says your team is your second family and it is absolutely true.”

The Team

Yesenia Ramirez, junior, Lake Placid – Ramirez is a three-year starter who played as a defensive sweeper. She scored six goals and made eight assists for the Green Dragons. “Yesenia is our shut-down defender,” said Lake Placid Coach John Merlo. “Her hard play the last three years has paid off for her and for our team. I am very proud of this young lady and she will be the center piece of our future. She had an outstanding year for us both on defense and offense. We were able to put her anywhere on the field and she had a big impact in every game she played. What we are most excited about is that four schools are already talking to her about soccer scholarships, that is great for a junior and we can only see what great opportunities will come out after her senior year.”

Gabriella Sboto, junior, Avon Park – Sboto played the forward position for the Red Devils and scored four of Avon Park’s five goals this season and was the team captain. “Gabriella is a fiery player with tremendous ball skills and is a threat to score anytime she is around the 18-yard box,” said Avon Park Coach Christopher Sboto. “She provided the offensive output for the team driving the ball deep into the opposing defense. She led the Red Devils in goals and shots on goal this year. Opposing coaches usually placed their best defenders or double-teamed her in an attempt to shut her down.”

Nitzellie Amaro, senior, Lake Placid – Amaro played defender for the Green Dragons. “Chelly had a big part in controlling most of the action defensively,” Merlo said. “She really stepped up for the team and moved from mid to defense this year. Her unselfish move was a big part of our success this season.”

Arely Marin, senior, Sebring – Marin scored four goals for the Blue Streaks and was also a team captain. She was a Florida All-State player and was on the Florida All-Academic Team. “Arely has a heart of gold and I could not ask for a better team captain,” Lackey said. “She can play both sides of the field. She is a shut-down defender and if the opportunity was there she could play striker or wing and put the ball in the back of the net.”

Waldina Florez, junior, Lake Placid – Florez played the goalie position for the Green Dragons and had three shutouts. “Waldina had a great defensive season for us,” Merlo stated. “This young lady had an outstanding year playing goalie for us. She had a low goals against average, with a 0.95 average. She was the centerpiece of our defense. Her hard work has really paid off for a first-year player. I can only see big things for next year.”

Adriana Hernandez, senior, Avon Park – Hernandez worked tirelessly covering the midfield for the Red Devils this season. “Adriana continued to improve each game this season,” Sboto said. “She came into the season with a new tenacious attitude. She quarterbacked the play this season passing the ball to her teammates on the wings and to her forwards.”

Zuleima Barajas, freshman, Lake Placid – Barajas finished the season with six goals and two assists for the Green Dragons. “Zully was having a great year for us until she broke her ankle at Mulberry,” Merlo said. “We lost her for the second half of the season. A first-year starter for the varsity team. This young lady will be the centerpiece of our future.”

Cali Zimmerman, sophomore, Sebring – Zimmerman scored two goals for the Blue Streaks this season. “Cali is in her second year and continues to show a lot of grit and fight,” Lackey said. She is a fabulous all around player whether in the midfield, where she is very comfortable defending to scoring. She continues to be an outstanding player.”

Sayra Cortes, freshman, Lake Placid – Cortes netted eight goals for the Green Dragons and made four assists. “Sayra had an outstanding year,” stated Merlo. “A first-year starter for the varsity team. She had an outstanding year and really came into her own getting better and better with every game. We see good things with her next year.”

Brianna Nobles, senior, Avon Park – Nobles was a four-year starter and captain for the Red Devils. She transitioned into goalkeeper her senior year. “Brianna made many amazing saves keeping her team in most games,” Sboto said. “She kept her team from losing to the mercy rule.”

Jameson Waller, senior, Lake Placid – Waller controlled most of the action for the Green Dragons offensively and defensively. “Jayma’s aggressive play made her one of the best players on the field,” Merlo stated. “Her hard play will be missed next season.”

Leilani McMillan, freshman, Sebring – McMillan played defense for the Blue Streaks this season. “Leilani has been a blessing,” said Lackey. “She gives us a lot of speed in the backfield and can be a threat up top in the right situation. She continues to grow and only upside exists for her. She will continue to grow as a player and our team will benefit from her talent and progression.”

Elizbeth Gonzalez, senior, Lake Placid – Gonzalez played defense for the Green Dragons. “Liz is a three-year varsity starter and had a great defensive season for us,” Merlo stated. “Playing on the right, she faced most teams’ best attacking forwards from the right, and did a fantastic job in stopping them. We will miss her hard play on the field next year.”

Hailey Franza, junior, Avon Park – This season was Franza’s first year and she played defense for the Red Devils. “Hailey won herself a starting position with her physical play and her strong defense,” said Sboto. “She was able to solidify the right side of the defense knowing how to use her body to defend against opposing players and her ability to get the ball cleared. I look forward to Hailey’s continued improvement for next season.”

Eddith Cortes, junior, Lake Placid – Cortes scored six goals and had eight assists for the Green Dragons. “Eddith had a great season,” said Merlo. “She had a big part in controlling the action both offensively and defensively. This young lady will be the centerpiece in our future.”

Jenna Murphy, sophomore, Sebring – Murphy had one goal for the Blue Streaks this season. “Jenna has been a great addition this year,” said Lackey. “She came out of retirement after six years from her glory days at the YMCA. She not only can run for days but she has a very powerful leg and a great knack for the ball. She continued to progress throughout the year and will continue to be a great asset for the next several years.”

Gabi Merlo, senior, Lake Placid – Merlo started on varsity for three years and has been a big part in controlling the action. “Gabi controlled most of the action both offensively and defensively,” Merlo said. “Coming back from a season-ending injury last year, she really picked up her game and showed great leadership on and off the field, which will surely be missed next year.”

Miranda Bustos, senior, Avon Park – Bustos played on the Red Devils defense and was a leader on and off the field. “This was Miranda’s first year playing,” Sboto stated. “She is a very aggressive and physical defender. She broke up many plays defensively and was such an imposing force out there on the pitch. It was such a pleasure to coach and have Miranda on the team.”

Brianna Quinn, senior, Sebring – Quinn made a total of 212 saves for the Blue Streaks. “I really missed Bri’s spunk and fight last year,” Lackey said. “What she lacked in size, she more than made up in heart. She would take a beating and get up fighting. She fought every game to the end. She will be recognized as a fierce competitor. She has been a terrific goalie throughout her career. She was a part of the Florida All-Academic team.”

Hailey Collinsworth, senior, Avon Park – Collinsworth was a team captain and played defense for the Red Devils. “Hailey is a leader on the defense,” said Sboto. “She has a strong leg and was able to get the ball cleared when needed. She is a physical defender that battled nightly with opposing teams forwards.”

Mia Davis, senior, Lake Placid – Davis was a captain and defender for the Green Dragons. “Mia had another great year on defense for us,” Merlo said. “Playing both sides of the field, she faced most teams’ best attacking forwards and did a fantastic job in stopping them. This young lady will be missed on our defense next year.”

Isabel Hernandez, junior, Avon Park – Hernandez was a part of the Red Devils’ defense. “Isabel is a tenacious and aggressive defender that battles constantly with opposing players,” said Sboto. “She had a never quit attitude and showed that example on the pitch every play and every game.”

Honorable Mention

Melina Oxer, senior, Lake Placid — “Melina did a great job,” said Merlo. “This was her first year playing goalie for us and did a fabulous job. She is a very talented athlete.”

Morgan Miller, sophomore, Lake Placid — “Morgan has a lot of talent,” stated Merlo. “Can’t wait to see what she does next year. She is an outstanding player.”

Abagail Penfield, sophomore, Avon Park — “Abagail battled injuries at the end of the season but when healthy she was a great defender,” Sboto stated. “She was able to string along passes to open up our forwards. Her presence on the pitch was definitely missed when she was not in the game.”

Alondra Vargas, junior, Lake Placid — “Alondra really stepped up from JV last year,” Merlo said. “She did a fabulous job on defense whenever we needed her.”

Azusena Balderas, senior, Lake Placid — “Azusena did a great job at mid,” said Merlo. “She was ready to help out whenever we needed her.”

Coach Of The Year

For guiding their teams to successful seasons, Avon Park’s Chris Sboto, Lake Placid’s John Merlo and Sebring’s T.C. Lackey have been selected as the Highlands News-Sun 2019 All-Highlands Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.


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