All eyes on 5A semifinal

Updated: February 11, 2010, 12:30 PM ET
By Nicholas Murray | Special to ESPN RISE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The showdown is upon us.

No. 1 Melbourne (Melbourne, Fla.) and No. 3 George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.) will face each other in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A semifinals at 10:30 a.m. ET on Friday morning in a game most neutral observers had been hoping to see since early in the season.

That sense of anticipation is being felt by both sides as they prepare for the game at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium.

"We're looking forward to the game," Melbourne coach Rosanna Lord said. "It's a great feeling to be able to play against another team that's ranked. We're looking forward to it, and hopefully we pull out a win, but if we don't at least we know we're playing a quality team in the end. I know that whatever happens both teams are going to give it all they've got."

The Bulldogs have already defeated a pair of ranked teams on their way to the final, edging past then No. 23 Viera (Fla.) 2-1 in the region semifinals before blasting No. 8 West Boca Raton (Fla.) 5-0 in the region final. Lord said after the Bulldogs got off to a fast start against the Bulls, and the momentum just snowballed as the game went on.

"I think the girls were mentally prepared going into that West Boca game, and once things started going it just started clicking," Lord said. "Adrenaline just took over and they were very successful in that game."

Jenkins didn't defeat the same high-profile sides as Melbourne did on its path to the state semifinals, but the Eagles were impressive in advancing past perennial region tournament rival Newsome (Lithia, Fla.) 4-2 on Saturday afternoon. Theresa Butler scored twice in the first half and Tori Abnathy twice in the second as the Eagles defeated the Wolves for the third successive season in the region tournament.

Eagles coach Joe Lenard said his side has had a good week of practice, and is looking forward to the challenge of facing the Bulldogs.

"The girls have definitely stepped it up a notch," Lenard said. "They're playing with a lot of confidence right now, they're playing well, the speed of play is there and they've very excited and looking forward to Friday's game."

The Eagles are a younger squad than last season, with Butler, Abnathy and Kacy Scarpa being among a group of sophomores that have been important contributors to the side. Those players first defeat as high school players came in last season's Class 5A final when the Eagles lost to Palm Harbor 3-1. Returning to Pepin Stadium has been the biggest goal for the Eagles this season.

"It was their goal from the first day of tryouts to get back to Tampa," Lenard said. "Some of them definitely had a bad taste in their mouth after losing in the final last year and they had something to prove. They wanted to definitely get back there because a lot of people were saying they weren't good enough. They've gotten back there now, and now what we do and how we perform is up to us."

While the Eagles will be trying to wash the bad taste out of their mouth, the Bulldogs will be trying to earn a second straight state title. After winning the 6A crown in 2009, Lord said winning back-to-back titles, which would put them in line potentially for a national crown, would be a great accomplishment.

"It would be a great accomplishment for the girls, the families and of course, the coaches," Lord said. "It's not something that you expect to happen, it just kind of falls into place. If it were to happen, it would be great, it's one accomplishment we've hoped (to reach). We put it on paper as one of our goals, it was just as matter of reaching it. If it happens, it will be one of those wonderful things."