TAMPA — The learning curve was steep Friday night as Newsome traveled to Durant for a Class 5A-District 6 showdown.
The Wolves, undefeated and looking to continue atop the district, faced a talented Cougars team looking to get noticed.
Even longtime coach Dick Sheffield, who returned to the Durant sidelines this year after a two-season absence, said he wasn’t sure if his team entered the match expecting to be able to hang with perennial powerhouse Newsome.
The Wolves won 2-1, but Durant (6-3) proved a more-than-able opponent, not only hanging with Newsome (12-0, 4-0), but also controlling the match at times.
“I guarantee you the kids weren’t sure,” Sheffield said. “Now they can walk away saying, ‘OK, we can play with this team.’ These kids now know that they can compete and that’s big.”
After Newsome took the lead in the second half on a Shayna Zajac goal, Durant evened the match and pushed forward, but fell victim to a stoppage-time penalty that allowed Zajac, a sophomore defender, a chance from 35 yards, which she converted with a lofted goal.
“It was incredible,” Newsome coach Kelly Townsend of Zajac’s second goal. “She had one like that in our win over Hillsborough (4-0 on Dec. 5) and did it twice tonight, really stepping up not just on defense but offensively.”
The Wolves took the lead on a fading chip shot from Zajac from 30 yards out that fell just under the bar in the 53rd minute.
Durant evened the match after a collision in the box with her own defender left Wolves keeper Alex Zilberfarb out of position and Durant’s Mack Thompson equalized with a 69th-minute goal.
Zilberfarb, the team’s third-string keeper, filled in well for players away with their club team. After the match, Townsend praised the junior, who hadn’t played keeper in two seasons.
“She really stepped up for our team,” Townsend said. “We needed her with some players missing and she really came through.”