When Barron Collier girls soccer head coach John Winfield returned to the Cougars' sidelines this year after over a decade absence, he wasn't quite sure what to expect from a very young team that only had two returning seniors.
He admitted there was a lot of trial and error.
"All year long I worked hard to put the parts of the puzzle together," Winfield said. "We knew who our best goalkeeper was, but we've got a lot of different girls that we were interested in for the future of the program."
Part of that process was playing Alex Persiani, the team's top goalkeeper, as a midfielder to try and shore up the offense.
"We lost one of our best midfielders at the beginning of the season. I needed to work on my feet and I thought that was the best place to do it," she said. "It was an extremely positive experience. It's so different from being in goal, but I got to understand what is going on with the rest of the field."
Although Persiani proved that she could also be "dominant" in the field, it was in net where she was most valuable, which she showed this week during the district tournament.
"She commands the field with her vocalization to the players in front of her," Winfield said. "She makes everyone in front of her better which in turn makes her look better."
The junior looked pretty good in goal last week, allowing just one goal during that span. Against Gulf Coast in the semifinals, Persiani stopped 15 of the 16 shots she faced. In the finals, she had an 18-save performance in a 1-0 victory against defending state champion Cape Coral-Ida Baker for the 4A-District 12 title.
"Obviously, we all did our job. We had an awesome showing against Gulf Coast and that gave us confidence going into the finals against Ida Baker," said Persiani, who is on a recruiting trip which includes official visits to her top two choices Georgetown and High Point University.
"There was a play where one of Ida Baker's players got out on a breakaway and Alex came out and cut off the angle and forced the shot to go wide," Winfield said. "I think that was the key of that game."
Winfield plans to stick with Persiani in goal as the Cougars set their sights on a state title beginning with their 4A regional opener against visiting Venice on Wednesday.
Aja Curth, Estero soccer — Scored three goals in two Class 3A-District 12 games for the Wildcats.
Maria Gomez, Barron Collier soccer — Helped the Cougars win the 4A-12 championship with a goal and two assists in two games.
Maddy Moses, Community School soccer — Her four goals helped Community School win the 1A-10 district championship.
Cassie Schuster, Naples soccer — Tallied four goals in the 3A-12 district tournament as Eagles advanced to regionals.