When Jen Santiago took over the Lely girls soccer program prior to the 2015-16 season, she knew she’d have to change the culture and get the girls to believe they could win.
The Trojans went 6-13-0 in that first season, followed by a 7-10-0 record last year.
And while this year’s record doesn’t look remarkably better, the team certainly is.
At 6-8-2 heading into this week's district playoffs, the Trojans are a different squad than they’ve been the last two years. Lely outscored opponents 44-38 during the regular season, a large improvement over last year, when they were outscored 43-19. The Trojans were outscored 54-22 the previous year.
“The first two years, there was a bit of carryover from previous seasons,” Santiago said. “This year has been our best year by far, and I think a lot of that has to do with having just about everyone on the team with me as their head coach the entire time. When I got here, I knew we had to change the face of the program and get it going back in the right direction.”
In years past, the Trojans entered games against district and county rivals Naples and Barron Collier defeated before the games even started. And although they’ve lost four times to those two foes this year, all but one of those games were decided by one goal.
“There was the belief we couldn’t win certain games on our schedule,” she said. “We’d have the games where we expected to win and other games where we expected to lose. That’s starting to change. The girls are believing they can beat anyone on the schedule.”
Junior forward Alondra Castillo has emerged as a prime scoring threat, with 14 goals in 14 games this year. Senior midfielder Emily Hamilton, a four-year starter for the Trojans, is one of the squad’s most dynamic playmakers due to her speed and aggressiveness.
Youngsters like freshmen Kristen Petronzio and sophomore Saoirse Bowe give the Trojans a solid foundation to sustain success in the coming years.
“When I first got here, we had one player who played club soccer,” Santiago said. “We’ve got eight or nine now, and that’s important because the best teams in the area always have a lot of club players. Teams like Naples and Barron are at least aware of us now. They know that they can’t just roll over us like in years past. Our girls have a lot of heart and determination, and teams are noticing that now.”