Through more than two decades at Stanton College Preparatory School, as a student, teacher and coach, Brian Heggood has kept waiting for one milestone.
The Stanton girls soccer coach still hasn’t seen an FHSAA championship in a team sport go into the school’s trophy cabinet.
That could all change Friday.
The freshman-laden Stanton squad stands one step from history when they meet Merritt Island in Friday’s 3A championship at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand.
They’re the first Gateway Conference team to qualify for a state final since 1998, when Fletcher lost the title game to St. Thomas Aquinas.
But when ninth-graders make up a majority of the starting lineup on a team in its first-ever championship game, there’s the inevitable question: How did they do it?
It’s been one part freshman talent, maturing faster than even their coach could have expected.
“Back in October, I could tell they were talented, but you think about how they’re going to adjust to the speed of the high school game,” Heggood said.
And one part senior leadership.
Heggood said that senior midfielders Christina Rushing and Alyssa Mahar have taken the lead in helping the freshmen become comfortable with the group, all the way to off-field activities like organizing carpools and pregame dinners.
“I can’t say enough about the captains,” Heggood said. “They’ve been everything I could have hoped for.”
And when the veterans saw what the newcomers could do — like former free kick specialist Mahar observing the dead-ball talents of freshman Camille Prosswimmer — they’ve been quick to let their younger teammates step into bigger roles.
“She was the one who recognized how good Camille was at that,” Heggood said.
That decision has been richly rewarded throughout the playoffs, with Prosswimmer scoring in the regional final from a free kick and setting up several more goals throughout the postseason off corners.
The Blue Devils used that teamwork to survive the setback of losing athletic defensive midfielder Naja Ashman to a torn knee ligament just a week into the season.
Former right fullback Rushing stepped into midfield to join Mahar and freshman Leena Vashi, while yet another newcomer, Hannah Fischer, took over on the outside.
On West 13th Street, the anticipation is building.
“It’s been nice the last two weeks to see how much this means for the student body,” Heggood said. “It’s a good feeling all around to see how invested people are in the team.”
Athletic director Chris Crider said more than 150 students are making the trip for the matchup with Merritt Island, a state contender year after year.
If the Blue Devils can add Merritt Island to a playoff victims list that already includes top teams Menendez, Ponte Vedra, Gulf Breeze and Land O’ Lakes, that empty space in the cabinet won’t be empty anymore.
“I would love it for the girls, for the ride we’ve been on,” Heggood said.