BY GENE NARDI
The Wellington High School girls varsity soccer team hosted Jupiter High School in the Class 5A regional final match Friday, Jan. 30 and bested the Warriors 5-3.
The game looked bleak for the Wolverines early in the first half. Jupiter scored quickly in the eighth minute to take a 1-0 lead.
In the 15th minute, Jupiter extended its lead to 2-0, and the Wellington players suddenly found themselves watching their season come to an end.
Wellington’s résumé in comebacks expanded after the victory. The Wolverines had to rally from a one-goal deficit to beat Stoneman Douglas in the regional quarterfinals game to advance.
“We have not been in this spot; how are we going to react?” wondered Wellington coach Mike Kozlowski of his team’s early situation, being down two goals. “We knew it was going to take something serious to get out of this hole, and they did the work to do it.”
Less than two minutes later, freshman Lauryn Auger closed the gap to 2-1 for the Wolverines when she found the back of the net. Kassidy Hannum earned the equalizer for Wellington from a header off of a corner kick just one minute later to tie the game at 2-2. The teams continued to battle the rest of the half, but it was evident that a wind of change was in the air for the Lady Wolverines.
In the second half, the momentum continued to swing Wellington’s way. In the 60th minute, Wellington took its first lead of the game. Sophomore Megan Cebollero took a pass in the center, on a breakaway, and beat the Jupiter goalkeeper for the go-ahead, making the score 3-2.
Four minutes later, Jupiter responded with a goal to equalize the score at 3-3. It was the last goal the Warriors would find for the evening. The solid Wellington defense proved difficult for Jupiter.
Riley Nicholson would find the back of the net twice later in the half to give Wellington a two-goal lead at 5-3. Nicholson’s first was a rocket from 23 yards out into the upper right corner of the net. Her second was a close shot, inside after beating three defenders.
Wellington put together several second-half attacks, pressuring Jupiter’s defense, making it difficult for the Warriors to counter.
The regional title is Wellington’s first since winning the state championship in 2008. Kozlowski was the coach during that period. His return to the pitch, along with the chemistry of the team, appears to have brought the passion back to a program that historically has been known for its success.
“It’s absolutely awesome; they’ve worked so hard for this. This is not a reflection of the coaches, it’s a reflection of them,” said Kozlowski of the team’s championship victory.
Wellington will travel to Melbourne, to the state semifinal round against the defending Class 5A state champions St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday, Feb. 6.
ABOVE: Wolverine freshman Alexandra Rehr tries to settle the ball for a pass.