Santa Fe girls high school soccer beats Suwannee 2-1 for district crown
ALACHUA — Santa Fe women’s soccer head coach Ricardo Morales wants his respect.
Morales took charge of the Raiders’ program two seasons ago when he was 21.
“It’s been a long year just because I’m that age. It’s always hurt my career and my ability to do my job,” Morales said.
But on Monday night, Morales, now 22, stood on the Santa Fe High School football field after leading the Raiders to their second district championship in three seasons with a 2-1 win over Suwannee.
“At the end of the day, I always say they make my job easier,” Morales said, pointing to his team. “The only thing I will say for myself is that I want my respect, no matter what age.”
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Here are the takeaways from Monday’s District 2-4A title game.
Kinsy Ruth, Grace Miranda and Raiders midfielder pace Santa Fe
One of Santa Fe’s goals was to control the midfield – something Suwannee rookie Alaira Handy would contest.
Handy, a fast player with a strong leg and strong ball handling skills, would pressure the Raider midfield every 80 minutes.
“We knew we had to strike the right balance between giving her the respect she deserves because she’s a wonderful player,” Morales said of Handy. “As soon as she was on the move, we knew we had to be on the move. We knew she was going to play the ball a lot and cross space to get her shots.”
Luckily for Santa Fe, the Raiders midfielder countered Handy well, while also creating offensive opportunities.
The Raiders were the first to find the scoreboard, thanks to a goal from senior Kinsy Ruth, who was helped by sophomore Cassy Rehe with 10:30 left in the opening period.
Santa Fe would allow Suwannee to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second half, but the Raiders would score the game-winning goal as second Grace Miranda received a pass from Madison LaLonde and pushed it into the bottom left corner of the aim.
“Basically every player who came into midfield did what they were supposed to do,” Morales said. “It was something key that we wanted to do. We felt there was a lot of space to occupy. And as soon as we were able to lock down that midfield, we were able to create a lot and take off a lot of the pressure from our defence.”
Suwannee comes out with a solid defensive game plan
Earlier in the month, Santa Fe beat Suwannee 7-0.
Santa Fe second Haidyn Smith scored four goals on Jan. 10, while three others scored against Suwannee.
But in Monday’s district title fight, Suwannee was ready.
“They’ve got a really good defensive game plan in place,” Morales said of the Bulldogs. “They definitely knew our weaknesses and they knew our strengths and how to negate them. They came out with something to prove.”
After falling behind early, the Bulldogs would tie the game early in the second period thanks to a goal from rookie Samantha Hanssen.
Hanssen’s goal would ricochet off the hands of Santa Fe second goalie MK Gilliam, tying the game at 1-1 with 32 minutes remaining.
Gilliam slips into starting keeper role after Riley Baker injury
At the start of the season, junior Riley Baker was named Santa Fe’s starting goaltender. Over 13 games, Baker made 31 saves.
But on January 17 against Lake City Columbia, an injury hit him. Baker was seen on the sidelines in a sling during Monday night’s district title battle, while Gilliam stood inside the Raiders’ goal.
Gilliam, who was the Raiders’ backup goaltender last season, hasn’t been Santa Fe’s second goaltender this year.
“This year she was able to become an outfield player and halfway through the season she got a starting position on the pitch,” Morales said of Gilliam.
Instead, second Santa Fe student Morgan Applebee served as the Raiders’ backup. But Applebee was also unavailable on Monday.
“One time we looked at (Gilliam) and said, ‘Do you want to do this? she says, ‘You’re counting on me,'” Morales said. “And through the nerves and through the anxiety and all the challenges that come with being a starting goalie mid-season, she rose with great bravery and great confidence.”
With Monday night’s win, the Raiders clinched their ticket to the Class 4A playoffs.
While Santa Fe has to wait to see who it will shoot in the first round of the state tournament, Morales is sure of one thing.
“We’re taking one game at a time,” Morales said. “Tonight we are going to celebrate. We are going to enjoy this victory, tomorrow we are going to rest and the day after tomorrow I promise you that we will train and prepare.”