Underdog Chargers full of spirit

SHORECREST VS. AMERICAN HERITAGE: 2 p.m. today, Fort Lauderdale. Results available at www.sptimes.com

Published February 10, 2006

Line up the usual suspects for the state final in soccer.

It would be relatively easy to pick out Palm Harbor University and Clearwater Central Catholic.

The Hurricanes, 1999 state champions, are perennially regarded as one of the county's top programs and the Marauders possess the most final four appearances (5) and titles (3) of any girls team since 1993, with the last being in 1999.

Even St. Petersburg, which has consistently battled either PHU or Seminole for the top notch in the area and made its first region final last season, appears a suitable candidate.

Then, there's Shorecrest. They're kind of like the little engine that could, but with a little more flair.

Shorecrest (19-3-2) faces 2004 champion Delray Beach American Heritage (16-2-5) at 2 p.m. today in the school's first appearance in the soccer state semifinals. If it wins, it may face last year's winner, St. John's Country Day, who went to the semis five of the last six years.

While many feel that either last year's champion, St. John's Country Day, or the 2004 winner, American Heritage, will walk away with the trophy, the Chargers anticipate a different result.

A pep rally with every grade from preschool to high school is planned before the team leaves for Fort Lauderdale and the athletic boosters have fully funded the buses, which will take the team down Thursday and the students on Friday, a day school administrators declared a school holiday. "Yeah, sometimes, we'll think back to when we started and how incredibly nervous we would get, especially against the really good teams," said senior co-captain Tayllor Sembler, who, along with fellow captains Chrissy Mastry and Kelli Jones, started playing varsity the year after Wolfrath arrived.

"But now we have this air of confidence when we step on the field that we kind of expect to win. Not that we don't respect the other team, it's just that we approach the game with a lot more maturity."

When Wolfrath arrived in 1999, things happened a bit different on the field.

"Yeah, you could say there was a bit of a laid-back approach," said Wolfrath, who played on two state championship squads while at CCC between 1989-93. "The girls ... weren't used to the structure (that I brought). There were questions like, "Now, why do we have to show up an hour before the game?' and "What is the purpose of running all these different drills?' I guess ... no one was prepared for my approach."

Slowly but surely, things began to fall into place.

Wolfrath credits the burgeoning leadership of Lolly Chadwick, Laura Sibley and Alissa Momberg during the 2001-02 season as the program's turning point.

"You could see those three girls start to create a presence during practice and in pre-game that year," said Wolfrath, who continued to coach as an assistant at CCC while attending Eckerd College between 1993-97. "And then, after we had a disappointing season the following year, Barbara Chadwick, Lindsay Bofman and Teresa Casadonte took it upon themselves in 2003 as seniors to instill a certain pride in the program.

"I think after them it has been a natural progression of leadership where each class that follows the next feels a certain sense of responsibility."

And, when you talk to this year's version of the next, there's a clear picture of what Wolfrath expected when he first arrived.

"Yeah, it's awesome, exciting, unbelievable," said junior stopper Kelli Augustine, who, like the three seniors and many other Chargers, has attended Shorecrest since preschool.

"But the seniors have done a great job in helping us stay focused. We want to go down there and win the championship, that way we can add to the legacy that all the other girls before us helped build."