Girls Varsity Soccer
MDCA Soccer Scores a Successful Season
This year, the boys' and girls' soccer teams made history at Mount Dora Christian Academy.
MDCA's soccer program began in 1996 as a co-ed team and was played in the fall season. In 1997, the team played at the varsity level, and in 1998, they had their first winning season. The soccer program soon ended in 2004 when football was introduced to MDCA. In 2017, soccer returned to MDCA with a varsity boys team and a varsity girls team as a winter sport. A few years later, in January 2020, Clayton McDaniel was hired to teach math and coach the boys’ team.
Coach McDaniel played soccer from age six, joined a club team, and played in college. "It was something I always wanted to do; I always wanted to teach and coach. I didn't know where. I didn't think I would get an opportunity as soon as I started, but I was very excited once I heard I could do it."
Because soccer was relatively new for students, Coach McDaniel worked hard to encourage students to play. "It was about getting numbers; it was anyone who wanted to try...At some point, [I thought] more soccer players will come, and we will have a good team."
"At the beginning, the students were a little hesitant," said Coach McDaniel. He told players, "just trust me, go out there, and we're going to have a good time,' and they trusted me. Sure enough, after the first couple of games, they're like, 'this is fun.' I love watching non-soccer players play soccer. It's a cool experience."
The boys' soccer team only had one win in 2020, two in 2021, and seven in 2022. "At some point, I knew if we kept working, it would turn around, and we would get there," stated Coach McDaniel. "I knew the boys would be better than the year before. Districts came out, and it was a reclassification year, and everyone got new assignments. When I looked at it, I was like, we could win. We had yet to have a winning season, and that's always been my goal, and then move on to compete in the district."
It was not until this season that Coach McDaniel asked to coach both the boys' and girls' soccer teams. "Was it a crazy idea? Yeah! Absolutely! But was it awesome? Oh, without a doubt," expressed Coach McDaniel.
Most of the girls' soccer team is younger, with seven out of eleven players in 8th & 9th grades. "I knew the girls' team had a ton of potential because of how young they were. We had a good shot. Did I think that they would go to the final 8? No! I knew there would be growing pains. We would have to get used to each other. I didn't think it would be this year that it all clicked." Coach McDaniel continued, "I wanted them to learn and improve their skills, no matter how many games we won or lost...but the momentum turned quickly, and the victories kept coming.”
When the first set of rankings came out in mid-December, the girls' team was ranked number two in the region, and no other team was close. "The goal was to win districts because that had never happened before." stated Coach McDaniel, "The girls started hot and stayed hot. They faced several big tests throughout the season but competed with accomplished and skilled teams and took them to the end."
"My proudest accomplishment was the Eustis game," shared Freshman Emmi Bowman, "Even though we lost. This was my first season, and I had a really good game which made Coach trust my abilities for this team."
About going into the district game, Eighth-grader Reese Horbal states, "I was nervous but excited, it was a first-time experience for me, and I'm grateful to have had that experience! "
The girls ended their season with 17 wins! "To go from 5 wins [last year] to 17 [this year], I can't put it into words. It was the goal, and we achieved it," Coach McDaniel reflects.
The boys ended their season with ten wins. Senior Spencer Faden said, "I knew we had a good team capable of winning districts, and I was excited to try and make it happen."
Junior Dean Schaefer shared that going into the district game, "I had very strong hopes for the game and believed in my team; that we could put up a fight against any opponent we faced."
On February 2nd, 2023, both teams made history as MDCA's first District Champions! In close matches, the girls won 3-2 over Bishop Mclaughlin Catholic, and the boys pulled a 1-0 win over Academy at the Lakes.
"I am feeling more than happy," stated Senior Miguel Cunalata, "because my only dream was to make history for my school, and I accomplished my goal this year. It is impossible to describe in simple words."
Both teams continued to the regional playoffs. The boys made it to the regional quarterfinal, and the girls reached the regional final.
"I knew we would do good, but I never knew we would go that far," stated Junior Brooke Moss. "I was excited to leave a mark on the school and have people remember the 2023 girls' team."
Junior Easton Workman states about the playoffs, "I knew automatically that we were the underdogs going into the playoff games. No one expected us to make it as far as we did, but we proved them wrong."
"I knew from the start that we had a chance to make it far and win districts. But I didn't know that we would advance so far." Freshman Katie Bayly stated, "My proudest accomplishment is winning districts and being the first team to make it to the regional final."
About the season, Coach McDaniel shared, "I'm proud of the players; they were the ones who did it. I helped along the way, but that's the beauty of soccer; it's a player's game. We are a group of football, volleyball, baseball, and softball players, and we put together two teams that won two championships. It doesn't get any sweeter than that."
Coach McDaniel did not accomplish this season's success alone, "I have to thank Coach Z for allowing me to do this. My wife, because we have a one-year-old little girl at home, and she's the reason I can do this. My assistant coaches, Daniel Whaley, Keith Vidler, goalie coach Kelly Rowswel, and athletic trainer, Ashley Butler. Lastly, I'd like to thank the players. We won two championships. What teams win them both on the same night?!"
Coach McDaniel, along with many other students, want their achievements to help grow the soccer program at MDCA. "I hope that what we accomplished grows the program. And more people come to our school to play...Soccer may not be the number one sport here, but we are paving the way to be known for our soccer teams."
"I feel proud of myself and the team for what we accomplished together. I also think we finally put our team on the map," shared Junior Dean Schaefer.
"I think it [winning districts] will open up the soccer program to more people," commented Senior Emery Schick.
About the future, Coach McDaniel states, "The boys' team will lose a lot of key players to graduation. Some have been with me from the beginning. To lose them is going to be tough. The future is bright. Adding a middle school team allows us to develop players early on. Right now, it's still new, but I don't think I will struggle for numbers anymore."
"Soccer brings me joy in so many ways," shared Junior Kayla Velez, "being able to go out on a field and give my absolute all with the best group of girls is a dream. However, the little things in between make this sport so much more enjoyable. From fun practices and serious practices, bus rides to away games, and getting rewarded for our hard work with a district championship trophy-that's what makes soccer worthwhile!"