Polo Park Girls Soccer Team Wins County Championship

The Polo Park Middle School soccer team celebrates its big win.

For the first time in school history, the Polo Park Middle School girls soccer team won the Palm Beach County Championship, defeating Don Estridge Middle School 3-1 in the title game. The team finished undefeated, with eight wins and two ties during the regular season, and then winning all three playoff games.

“I am so proud of these girls,” coach Craig Kaliser said. “They fought so hard all year, and after what we went through last season, losing in such heartbreaking fashion, to come back and win the whole thing this season makes it that much sweeter.”

The loss last season was to Independence Middle School after the game ended in a 4-4 tie. Polo Park lost on the eighth shooter in penalty kicks.

“It was just such a heartbreaking ending last season,” co-captain Heather Cooney said. “There really is no way to describe how upsetting a loss it really was. Coming into this season, it was kind of funny because I didn’t really know how we would be because a lot of the girls were sixth graders.”

This season, however, had a much different conclusion. After exorcising some demons with a penalty shootout win in the semifinals against division rival Western Pines Middle School, the Stallions entered the final determined to finish off the dream season, even though they were the underdog against a Don Estridge team that had never trailed during the entire season.

Polo Park struck early in the game when forward Tavis Holman was fouled by the Dragons’ goalie in the box, resulting in a penalty shot. Fellow forward Devyn Gilman deposited the free kick in the back of the net for an early 1-0 lead.

Cooney, who has been on the team for three years, has led the team along with Gilman and fellow captain Alexa Fernandez.

“At first we had a little trouble finding our rhythm, but once we fell into a groove, I felt like we played some of our best soccer of the season,” Cooney said.

The score remained the same for the rest of the first half, but the Stallions stunned the Dragons when midfielder Sophia Biggs found Holman streaking behind the defense 30 seconds into the second half. When Holman slid it past the goalkeeper, the lead doubled to 2-0.

Don Estridge, however, responded a few minutes later, putting a corner kick in the middle of the box, and after a mad scramble, flicking it into the corner of the goal to cut the lead in half.

That led to a Dragons barrage over the next 10 minutes, with scoring chance after scoring chance being turned away by Polo Park’s defense and some outstanding goaltending by Caellen Semco, who punched out two shots that saved goals.

With four minutes remaining, the Stallions put the game away when midfielder Katie Brown stole the ball and carried it 25 yards before passing out wide to teammate Sofia Alonso. Alonso found Gilman, who, with pinpoint accuracy, crossed it to Holman, who banged it into the back of the net for the insurance goal.

When the final whistle sounded, the Stallions swarmed each other at midfield to celebrate the amazing championship. “It felt absolute amazing to win,” Cooney said. “Just complete euphoria.”

Kaliser was thrilled to watch them celebrate. “I’ve been telling the girls for a few weeks now that winning a major championship is a forever kind of thing,” Kaliser said. “No one can take this away, and they will never forget this. I’m so happy that they will now have this bond between them for the rest of their lives.”