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Cotey: East Lake's region run one for the ages

By John C. Cotey
Published February 2, 2008


SEMINOLE - It was this moment, with her schoolmates hugging her and her teammates dancing around and laughing, that brought Tessa MacGregor back.

It was this moment, a region championship win over Seminole that sends East Lake to it's first state final four, that pushed her through rehab.

It was this moment that brought the feeling back in her legs, that filled her with the desire to play again, that stoked her fire.

"My senior year, can you believe this?" she asked.

Well, yes.

Now.

But a few weeks ago?

No.

This moment, history has told us, has always belonged to Palm Harbor University.

The past four years, it was PHU - East Lake's arch-rival on the pitch - that won this game and advanced to the state finals.

Last year, the Hurricanes ended East Lake's season in this very game.

"Frustrating," MacGregor said. "It seems like it's been like that all our lives."

It's one of the reasons she wanted to come back so badly for her final season, even after her legs went numb last December and she had to be rushed in for emergency surgery, wiping out her junior season.

A previous back injury had only worsened, and one day, she couldn't walk.

"A goalkeeper tackled me," she said. "Herniated disk."

But after watching MacGregor play, watching her fire and her determination, you have to ask: are you sure it wasn't you who tackled the keeper?

"Well, kind of," she admits sheepishly. "It was a breakaway. She had to stop me."

These days, it seems, no one can stop her or the Eagles, who will head to Fort Lauderdale for a state semifinal.

They are the last team standing in Class 5A, having disposed of PHU and Seminole, teams with a combined record of 35-3-3 record, in a four-day span.

"It's always been about PHU and Seminole," she said, "And we kicked both their butts 3-0."

She said her team watched the video of the win over PHU before going out and beating Seminole.

But you get the sense MacGregor hardly needed that to fire her up.

She will play on a partial scholarship next year at North Georgia College, but until this season, this game, there was unfinished business gnawing at her.

And not just her, but keeper Ali Burnham, a rock in net Friday.

Tara Petzoldt, a key contributor to three straight playoff shutouts.

Leah Fisher, who played with a sore right hamstring but scored the first goal anyway.

And Alicia Nalley, who's powerful left leg would not be denied - in one three-minute stretch, she rifled three bullets at the keeper, the last one finally getting through for a 2-0 lead.

"It's all of us," MacGregor said. "This is what we've been trying for."

That is why, when coach Raleigh Daves took her out of a game well in hand with four minutes remaining, MacGregor yelled and yanked her jersey out of her shorts.

After a few moments, she turned back around, walked to the edge of the field and started cheering.

The final whistle blew, and the moment arrived, and it felt just like she thought it might.

She took off toward her teammates, towards the onrushing East Lake fans, lost in a pile of bodies.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 813-909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.