What a difference a day-and-a-half can make.
For the Wharton High girls soccer team, after a hot start, including a win over a 2010 state runner-up (Seminole) in its Lady Wildcat Invitational and a tough 2-1 loss in the tournament final to Newsome, the Wildcats were repeatedly hit with injuries.
So when Wharton arrived toting a 4-9 record to the two-day Premiere Division of the Sarasota Holiday Classic Tournament, it would have been justified for the team to struggle. But Coach Denis Vukorep said packing it in was the furthest thing from the players' minds.
Four 2-0 wins and a tournament title later and Wharton (8-9) is poised to finish the regular season with a winning record heading into a tough 6A-District 8 tournament.
"The nicest thing to see was that when we weren't getting the breaks and things started to mount, there was never any dissention with finger-pointing and bickering," Vukorep said. "Everyone stayed together. Stayed positive and that allowed us to have an opportunity to go forward because when the going got tough we kept working."
And things did get tough.
After starting the season 2-1, the Wildcats lost four straight, before winning against district opponent Brandon and nearby rival Freedom. Then the injuries started to mount as Wharton again dropped four straight.
In one week in November, the Wildcats went from 20 healthy players to 12, as the side struggled to have enough players to field a team.
A season-long nagging left ankle injury kept one the Wildcats strongest weapons in Fallon Vaughan off the field. Junior defender Emily Belanger missed time, as did defenders Sam Lawerence and Brittany McNickle, forward Taylor Virgili had a nerve issue in her leg and keeper Heather Montgomery had a nonconcussion-related head injury.
"Every time someone got hurt we've patched holes, and there are not a lot of 4-9 teams that go into a tournament and have a belief they will play well," Vukorep said. "But this attitude the team has allowed us to get through that time and now it can give us a lot of momentum."
Vukorep has found players to fill the holes as transfer Ashni Deschenes leads the Wildcats with six goals. Vaughan, although not at full strength, notched two goals for Wharton in a win against Miami Killian, despite only playing 30 minutes.
"We kept the positive attitude and kept up our hopes," senior midfielder Sofia Rattes said. "We knew putting our heads down and quitting wouldn't accomplish anything so we just decided as a team not to give up."
Attitudes like Rattes', Vukorep said, are prevalent on the team. With matches against Sickles on Tuesday, Brandon (Jan. 6) and Strawberry Crest (Jan. 14), the coach said the team is ready for a potential push into the playoffs.
"We were on everyone's radar after our tournament and then quickly went back under," Vukorep said. "But I think hopefully with people getting those chances to fill in it will make us a deeper team come playoff time."