By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceols

Heading into Tuesday’s night FHSAA Class 7A, District 9 girls’ soccer final, top-seeded Celebration and second-seeded Harmony had surrendered exactly two combined goals in their last 800 minutes of soccer; while going a combined 10-0-0.

So it should come as no surprise that Tuesday night’s final was a low-scoring affair, won by Harmony, 1-0, on a second-half goal by Longhorn freshman forward Jayden Frost.  It was the first career game-winner for Frost, who was the smallest and youngest player on the field.

“It was a tough game all night with neither team generating a lot of offense,” Harmony coach Scott Marlega said.  “At the end of the day we won a flick off a throw in and the smallest player on the field found the ball at her feet directly in front of the goal and tapped it in.  Admittedly, it wasn’t the prettiest or most dramatic goal, but it was what we needed at the time.”

The win lifted the Longhorns to 13-3-0 on the season and will send them into a 7A, Region 3 quarterfinal next week – with the opponent and site yet to be determined.  “They changed the format a couple of years ago and where the district champion is not guaranteed a first round regional home game,” Marlega noted.  “So we will have to wait until all district play is over and see where they rank us.  Regardless, of who or where we play, I’m extremely proud of this group tonight.”

Neither team was able to generate much offense, especially in the first half.

The first half saw only nine total shots being taken, with only five of those being on goal and only three could considered solid scoring opportunities.  At 26-minute mark, Celebration’s Ellie Armstrong – the team’s leading scorer with nine goals, eight assists and 26 points — had a breakaway down the right-hand side, but Harmony goalie Karla Marrero blocked Armstrong’s hard shot.  The rebound went to the other side of the net, where Storm forward Ines Nouer eventually won the ball and put another shot on goal but Marrero was up to the challenge again recording a second save.  

Harmony would counter two minutes later when Machaela Looper got off a hard shot off from distance, but Storm’s freshman goalie Evelyn Juden made a solid stop to keep the game level at 0-0.

Celebration would come out with renewed energy in the first 10 minutes of the second.  

The Storm would get potential scoring opportunities by getting several through balls into the Harmony box, but on each occasion Marrero would beat the Storm attacker to the ball or a Longhorn defensemen would run the play down from behind and sweep the ball harmlessly away.

After Frost’s heroics, the Harmony defense would take control of the game.  

The majority of the final 20 minutes was spent on the Celebration defensive side of the field.  “We’re young up front but we have some savvy veterans on the back line and at the midfield,” Marlega said.  “They did a great job of keeping the ball at the Storm end of the field in the final fourth of the game.”

In a late charge, Celebration applied some pressure and earned two corner kicks in the final minute, but the Longhorn defenders successful cleared both balls to hold on for the win.

Although the Storm was not expected to receive an at-large bid to regionals, it was another highly-successful season for Rebecca Camis’ young team.  After two seasons of struggling around the .500 mark, Celebration has now gone a combined 26-6 in the last two years, claiming a 2023 Orange Belt Conference title and making to the district finals in back-to-back years.   

In addition, the future appears bright as 51 of the 68 goals scored this year by the Storm came from underclassmen.  Added to that fact is that goaltender Juden is just a freshman. “Our kids took the loss pretty hard, but I told them after the game the only thing that was important was that they played hard and gave it their all and I can proudly say that is what happened tonight,” Storm coach Rebecca Camis said.  “This team definitely took a step forward this year and so did our program.”

District soccer action continues today (Jan. 31), when Celebration boys’ team (8-2-2) play host to Osceola (7-4-1) in the 7A, District 9 final.  Gateway (13-3-1) will meet top-seeded Horizon (10-3-4) on Thursday night for Class 5A, District 6 title.