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Despite its lofty record of 5-1-2, American Heritage School Boca/Delray girls’ soccer coach Krisztian Mikoczi said this year has been a challenging season.
Just one year removed from its 4-2 loss to Lakeland Christian Academy in the Class 4A state final, the Stallions have expectations of getting back to the final four. It was the lone loss for American Heritage Boca/Delray, which finished the year 14-1-1.
“Like last year, we have been dealing with COVID-19 and we have been missing a lot of players for training and games,” Mikoczi said. “It looks like ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) and all of the other organizations have timed their tournaments with high school season.
“So it has been extremely difficult to get the rhythm going,” he said, “and get the whole group together, but we have a talented group with all of the interesting personalities on the team.”
The team graduated Emily Schleifer (Tennessee) who was an anchor for the team since playing for the varsity in middle school.
“Obviously we had Emmy (Schleifer) last year who has been around for a lot of years and she was the glue of the team,” Mikoczi said. “She was the moving piece that kept the team together. We are still looking for that person who can step up as a leader like she was, but altogether I think is as talented as the team was last year. I think we are going to go far again and, hopefully, we are not going to have injuries at key moments.”
One of those injuries was defender Jillian Moss, who injured her hamstring in the regional final. She reinjured it in the state finals forcing Mikoczi to move Schleifer back to central defender.
“As coaches, we always plan for Plan B, Plan C for the game, and in the state finals we had to come up with a D and E version,” Mikoczi said. “Unfortunately, she (Moss) reinjured herself midway through the second half and when we lost our other center back, we had to move Emmy back and we lost the core of the team. We played against a really strong team and I think with some luck we could have won.”
This year’s version opened the season with a 1-1 draw against Boca Raton and a 2-1 loss to Benjamin. They also drew with Doral Academy, 1-1, but have since won four straight. They have just five seniors and 16 underclassmen, including four middle schoolers.
“I think they have been doing a great job in following the lead of the older players,” Mikoczi said. “They have been getting the necessary moments to get the experience.
“I think they are good additions to the team, so I am not worried about them getting in because they play on top teams in the area,” he said. “I am sure they are going to be leaders for next year and the years to come. Sometimes the energy, when they are not comfortable, brings the best out of them.”
Moss, 17, of Wellington, said the team has dealt with adversity this season including graduating key players from last year’s squad.
“It has definitely been a lot especially since we are still having to deal with COVID and dealing with everything else going on,” Moss said. “We have been doing really well as a team and working with each other. It still seems like even with everything going on, we still have a good, family environment.
“Obviously, we made it to the state final, but we lost a lot of key players from the team,” Moss said. “Coming into the year, I felt we had a lot cut out for us because we are the team to beat and we had a lot of expectations on us. I feel like we have done well to meet those expectations and prove that we still belong.
Senior forward Avery Thompson has started since her sophomore year. The Wellington 17-year-old said she was willing to take on more of a leadership role this season following the key graduations.
“I felt since this was my senior year it was a perfect opportunity to do that,” Thompson said. “I am always trying to organize the team and lead warmups, be positive and try to encourage everybody. We needed some people to fill some really big roles on the team and (freshman) Lucia (Edelstein) is one of those people who is coming in and filling one of those roles. I think the team dynamic has been really good this year because we have been really close.
“I felt a little pressure because coach told me I was going to be team captain pretty early in the year,” Thompson said. “I kind of settled into my role and the girls kind of look up to me in a way. They know they can always come to me, and I will always be there for them.”
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Edelstein, 15, who lives in Ocean Ridge, said she was “super excited” to meet all of her new teammates.
“They are a nice group of girls to play with and connect with friendships,” she said. “I am excited to show off my talent and help them out.
“I feel like if we all work together as a team and everyone stays strong through the entire season,” she said, “I feel like we can make it higher and win a state championship. That would be insane to win it my first year on the team. It would bring so much joy.”
Mikoczi said they have their work cut out for them.
“We have four games these next two weeks and then it is crunch time with the playoffs and we are trying to peak at the right moment again,” Mikoczi said. “Just like the other seasons, we expect to have a lot of big moments.”