'Big target': American Heritage girls soccer embraces high expectations

The celebration after the American Heritage girls soccer team won its fourth straight district title was somewhat subdued.

There are bigger fish to fry as the Delray Beach private school has made the state finals two straight seasons. But there was more to the tempered emotions.

After posting a 4-2 victory over North Broward Prep in the District 13-4A final, some angry words were exchanged between some Stallions and Eagles at the neutral field of Somerset Canyons.

Afterward, the coaching staff assembled its nationally ranked team and explained that American Heritage has been so dominant, other teams are starting to get jealous.

“Everyone wants us to lose, everyone is rooting against us except this group right here and the fans over there,’’ one coach repeated to the players.

They didn’t get their wish, as American Heritage’s juggernaut rolled on in spectacular fashion.

American Heritage-Delray girls soccer after winning a fourth straight district championship on Jan. 31, 2023 in Boynton Beach.
American Heritage-Delray girls soccer after winning a fourth straight district championship on Jan. 31, 2023 in Boynton Beach.

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Isabella Larriu scored two goals, including the game-winner in the second half that broke a 2-2 tie. Francesca Carbone got the Stallions on the board first with an amazing first-half corner-kick goal reminiscent of David Beckham.

And Vanderbilt commit Nyela Calnek put the game away with the 4-2 goal with six minutes left. She knows her team’s greatness is starting to spawn detractors. In the first half, American Heritage was beset by an inordinate amount of penalties, though it led 2-1.

“We have a big target on our back,’’ Calnek said. “We’ve gone to states twice and gotten second. But we’re going to come back the third time and try to beat teams with a big target on our back. Yes, we’re good. We have a good team, a good everything. We’re thinking third time is the charm.’’

When assistant coach Jermaine Bell addressed his troops, he made a point to inform the players that district championships are not to be taken for granted, but there is a long road ahead before there is satisfaction.

The regionals start Tuesday with an opponent undetermined.

“It’s what we did all season," said first-year coach Julian Slotty. “It doesn’t matter who's injured or sick, we just get it done somehow. Those individuals stood out, but they couldn’t have done it without the team. When I took over it was the most important thing to have a team 1 to 20."

In fact, Slotty was most impressed by the comeback of midfielder Lucia Edelstein, who tore her ACL 12 months ago in the state regionals and made her debut Tuesday.

“That’s what stood out to me," Slotty said. “We threw her into cold water. She hadn’t played a game and played a fantastic game."

Their leading scorer Larriu also stepped up at the right moment. Her game-winner was a thing of beauty, receiving a pass on the left side 20 yards out and well covered. She deked her defender, got space and blasted it.

“I saw her forcing me to my left so I cut it to my right, rolled it and hit the top corner," Lurriu said. "That’s one of the goals I’m going to remember a long time. I love having my team win."

The junior has been on all four district title teams, dating to eighth grade.

“She was phenomenal and exceptional all year," said Slotty, who is from Germany. “She put on a great performance against a good team."

A sophomore, Carbone was in tears after the win, knowing her corner kick goal will go down in Stallions’ history. She also scored one just like it two weeks ago.

“It’s really, really super exciting," Carbone said. “Every time I take a corner, I try to put some spin on it so if it hits anyone in the box, it will end up spinning in. And sometimes it just ends up going in."

With two goals from Leah Finkelman, the Broward County school was tied at 2-2 midway through the second half. That’s when freshman defender Dakota Harrell stepped up.

She was instrumental in American Heritage protecting its 3-2 lead — once racing for a dangerous ball deep in its territory and knocking it away before the Broward attacker could reach it for a breakaway.

And she took a little risk that led to the 4-2 goal, dribbling past midfield and deftly into the offensive zone — a foray that eventually led to Calnek’s tap-in.

American Heritage had three more big scoring chances in the final minutes but the Stallions didn’t need it. They will save it for the states.

“It feels great to win every year," Larriu said. “We have great coaches all around us, winning with the same players every year and with newcomers."

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: American Heritage girls soccer embraces 'big target' on back