WEEKI WACHEE — Starting over under a brand new coaching staff, Citrus has endured its fair share of growing pains this season.
But the Hurricanes certainly have something to show for their efforts, an achievement the program hasn’t seen in quite some time.
On Tuesday night at Weeki Wachee, Citrus defeated county-rival Crystal River in the District 4A-5 girls soccer final, 3-0, to secure its first district championship since 2006.
“It means a lot for them to win the district championship,” first-year Citrus head coach Victoria Ekeli said. “They have worked non-stop all year long, so hard. They’ve learned new techniques, new formations that they’ve never put in before. So the fact that they’ve been able to take what we’ve taught them and just implement it in such a beautiful way was so exciting, and I know they’re so proud of themselves.
“Everything we’ve taught them throughout the year has just come together right now. They picked their head up, they looked across the field, they looked to switch the ball. They did everything we’ve been asking them to do.”
The ’Canes (8-9-1) came into the tournament as the top seed, and played in front for most of the match against the second-seeded Pirates (5-11-3). Tristen Marcic scored the game’s first goal in the 19th minute.
“That was a huge momentum swing for my girls,” Ekeli said. “They needed to definitely get a goal early and they did, and they just took that and ran with it.”
In the 29th minute Citrus took advantage of a yellow card handed out to the Crystal River keeper, resulting in a penalty kick. Marcic took the kick and put it past the backup keeper to make it 2-0.
“It feels honestly amazing because I’m coming in as a freshman. I was really excited for the soccer season,” Marcic said. “I’m so happy to win a district championship this year, it’s like a dream come true for me because I want to play in college.
“One of them (goals) was just like pure luck, the first one, because I wasn’t expecting it to go in because it was so low. But the second one was definitely nerve-racking, but it was good.”
Citrus got one more goal midway through the second half when Alydia Black found the back of the net on a kick high over the keeper. The ’Canes dominated possession throughout, holding a 23-5 advantage in shots on goal.
“Citrus is a good team. They’re a quality opponent. Unfortunately their skill set was a little bit better than ours, but we fought, we hung in,” Crystal River head coach Bill Reyes said. “We tried different things. Ultimately they were the better team and hats off to Citrus High.
“Hats off to my girls because at no point did we expect to be going home with a trophy, but we are. We hung in all season long. Coming into this game we were 3-1-1 in our last five. So we fought to the very end and honestly it is what it is. We came in a little shorthanded, a little dinged up, but Citrus was the better team.”
“It means a lot. Reyes is such a great coach and the Crystal River Pirates are such a great team,” Ekeli said. “It was exciting to play such a wonderful team in the finals.”
Both squads are headed to regionals for the first time since 2013. Citrus will host Cypress Creek while Crystal River travels to Nature Coast, each on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.
“It’s nice the girls are going to play in a big game. The seniors are going to get one more game,” Reyes said. “For many years the seniors ended short, their season got cut short, and the tournament went on. We got through the district tournament. The district tournament is over and we’re still alive, and we’re going to hope for a miracle. Just do our best and have fun out there. We’re in overtime and we’re just going to have fun at this point.”