Photography by Daniel Barceló
The ladies of Lakeland Christian School girls’ soccer team are more than players on the field. They’re family, with a promising future ahead for many of them.
“There’s definitely pride when people talk about Lakeland Christian soccer,”
says Jason Streets, who coached LCS girls soccer for 16 years. “I love this school. I graduated here, played soccer here. We won three state championships in soccer when I was here, so it’s cool seeing the soccer program continue.”
The current team, which ranges from sixth graders to high school seniors, went to the semi-finals in the 2017-2018 season and the finals in the 2018-2019 season, marking their fourth appearance in the finals over the last eight years.
“The girls have never won the championship in the program’s history, so that’s kind of the goal that we always shoot for. I’m praying that someday it’ll happen,” says Streets. “Getting to the finals last year was awesome because we graduated some players and we weren’t sure how well we’d do. The girls played their hearts out. Even though we lost, I was still proud.”
“Being a female athlete proves something to guys; that we can do just what they can do and that we’re good at it.”
– Katie Carnes, junior
This time around, they continued their success with a 19-1-1 season after going from 1A to 3A, a bigger district with larger schools, following a restructuring under the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Streets credited the team’s recent achievement to the bond among the ladies on and off the field.
“The chemistry with this group is really special,” he says. “They’re at different levels of their lives, so the maturity is different. But they really have bonded and truly love each other.”
The players echoed similar sentiments, as junior and attacking midfielder Katie Carnes says their harmony is rooted in girl power.
“Being a female athlete proves something to guys; that we can do just what they can do and that we’re good at it. The friendships and bonds here aren’t broken. You can talk to people [who have graduated] and they’re still friends with people they used to play with,” she says.
“It’s been cool looking up to older girls and now being one of the older girls and mentoring the younger ones. We’ve grown into this close bond together. It’s like a second family.”
– Isabel Matallana
Center back and junior Eden Guynn adds that, “Being a girl who plays sports stands out for what other kids want to do. I ran into a lady at the store and she said, ‘Hey, my daughter knows you!’ I had no idea who she was, but it made me realize that kids do know who I am, and they can look up to me. It’s awesome being a role model.”
Senior, University of Kentucky-hopeful, and right midfielder Isabel Matallana says she’s embraced friendships after playing with the team since seventh grade. “It’s been cool looking up to older girls and now being one of the older girls and mentoring the younger ones. We’ve grown into this close bond together. It’s like a second family.”
The unique love and bond make this time of year particularly bittersweet as Matallana and two other seniors gear up for graduation. Streets says that saying goodbye to a handful of players each season is the toughest part of his job.
“Two of my seniors have been with me since eighth grade. You get attached to these girls… and then they graduate, and you move on. Every year you’re losing someone who you’ve been with for a while. It can get emotional.”
Still, Streets continues to look on with pride after players like Bri Folds have thrived after graduation. Folds played LCS soccer all four years of high school before playing Division 1 women’s soccer at Auburn University. Most recently, she was drafted by pro soccer team North Carolina Courage with the 36th pick in the 2020 NWSL College Draft. She is now the first-ever LCS soccer player to be drafted by a professional team.
“It’s almost beyond pride,” says Streets. “She was just as good before she was with us and is the best soccer player that has ever come out of this school; arguably one of the best that has ever come out of Polk County.”
She’s noted for being a great teammate and a hard worker with a list of successes to her name to prove it. She excelled during her four years at Auburn University, setting up records and landing All-American her junior year.
Streets explains that she overcame struggles in her senior year, from injuries to being out of games, which makes Folds going pro even sweeter.
“We weren’t sure it was going to happen,” says Streets. During her senior year, Folds was playing with a lot of injuries and had to miss a lot of games. “We were hopeful because she’s absolutely deserving; we just weren’t sure.”
In the whole draft, they only take 36 people. “You think about how many hundreds and hundreds of soccer players graduate every year,” says Streets. So, for Folds to get drafted was a huge victory. “LCS has never had a soccer player get drafted professionally.”
If the team continues with its success, Folds could be the first of many.