Danny Fierro has a card on his fridge that his current seniors presented to him at the end of their sophomore season, his first as Weeki Wachee’s head girls soccer coach.
He recently sent those same players a photo of that card, and so he can recite what it said off the top of his head. They thanked him for being their coach, and believed “the longer we play for you, the better it will be.”
Two years later, those words are proving prophetic. The Lady Hornets sit 4-4-1, which may not seem all that impressive on the surface until presented within the context of the program’s still brief history.
When Fierro took over, Weeki Wachee had played for three seasons and gone a combined 1-49-2. The fortunes hadn’t improved much during Fierro’s first two campaigns at the helm: 0-16-1 in 2014-15 and 2-14 in 2015-16.
Over the years just avoiding the mercy rule seemed like a victory for the Lady Hornets, as Fierro admits most opponents probably anticipated an early night and an easy win.
“It felt like every time we played someone, it was Senior Night,” Fierro said.
On Nov. 18, Weeki Wachee blew out Zephyrhills, 10-0. For the first time, the Lady Hornets were on the other end of that mercy rule. But Fierro cautioned against celebrating too hard.
“Do I think we can be better? Absolutely. Do I like where we are? Absolutely,” Fierro said. “I’ve stressed to the girls that there are bigger things I want to do.
“I think as a team we’re doing really well all around. We have a really good mixture of everything.”
For the upperclassmen, this is a satisfying payoff after years of suffering through little success. However, Fierro said much of his young roster hasn’t been around long enough to experience the down times.
“We have really good freshman talent as well as sophomore talent and it’s starting to jell,” Fierro said.
Freshman Reilley Bain leads the team with 13 goals and six assists. Sophomore Lauren Mullen is second with eight goals and three assists, while freshman Marleen Ohr has scored six goals. In fact, all but one point – a goal by senior Courtney Thomas – has come from an underclassman.
But there are upperclassmen contributing in other areas, including senior keeper Erika Herzek and junior midfielder Aubrey Hypes, who has become a lockdown defender.
“I’ve stressed defense, defensive responsibility, be accountable for stopping goals instead of putting them in the back of the net,” Fierro said. “It has worked out so far.”
Weeki Wachee has given up 21 goals over nine regular-season contests, though a third of that came in a 7-4 loss at Pasco on Nov. 14. The Lady Pirates and Wesley Chapel have been the top teams in Class 3A, District 7 thus far. The Lady Hornets are battling for the next two spots with Nature Coast and Springstead, typically the county’s best programs.
“We’re all trying to find our own identity,” Fierro said. “We’re the only team in our district that didn’t replace senior starters. We only replaced one. I think that has worked out to our advantage.”
Fierro would like to see his team enter the district tournament as either a three or four seed, which would likely mean defeating Nature Coast and Springstead for the first time in team history. Weeki Wachee lost to the Lady Eagles on Nov. 16, 2-1, and has yet to play the Lady Sharks.
Winning the county championship, garnering a three or four seed and finishing above .500 would be considered a tremendous turnaround in Fierro’s eyes, and a steppingstone toward even more.
“I think we can sustain this for a while,” Fierro said. “I think Reilley and Lauren and Aubrey and Emily (Thomas), the juniors next year and the sophomores next year, they can instill what they’ve learned this year into the next gen and keep this run going.
“This could be a nice three- or four-year run for us if players stay at Weeki Wachee and continue to develop.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.