Arnold boy’s soccer team staying in St. Augustine between playoff matches

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 11:00 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -This is truly an historic time for the two Arnold High School soccer programs. Both Arnold teams winners Tuesday night in the 4A region finals, and now both are preparing for the 4A state semifinals and matches on the road Friday night. Let’s begin with the boy’s who Tuesday beat Menendez 6-1, thus giving the Marlins three playoff wins by a combined score of 20-2, and both goals against coming with the coach freely substituting in blowout matches.

As it turns out, the team staying in the St. Augustine area last night and tonight. The team working Wednesday at Menendez High School. Even though the Marlins are 23-0-2 and ranked first in the state, they have to play that state semifinal match Friday at Mariner in Cape Coral. So now trips to Gainesville, St. Augustine and Cape Coral these last three rounds leaving a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of coach Jona Hammond.

“And it doesn’t make sense for us to drive home today and then to leave Thursday to drive three hours past where we are now!” coach Hammond told me during a zoom call Wednesday afternoon.” So we’re a little frustrated with the FHSAA because the team we’re going to play has had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And we believe that’s an unfair advantage. But you know, it is what it is.”

The coach says the cost of the bus alone is going to be $7,000, then there’s hotel rooms and meals to be paid for. And on top of that, being forced into this kind of decision, for the sake of the team’s competitive chances in Friday night’s match.

“We’re going to stay here again (Wednesday) tonight.” the coach said. “Menendez’ coach was gracious enough to let us train at their school today. So we’ll do that. Tomorrow we’ll get on a bus and travel three hours south from where we are now. And kind of get rested in the hotel room. And we have the game Friday night and come back Saturday. I don’t know what to say, these guys are student athletes and it’s putting a strain on their school work.

As for the Lady Marlin, they posted a 2-1 win over defending state champ Bishop Kenny in Jacksonville Tuesday night, landing them a berth in the state semifinals. They did travel back through the night Tuesday and upon the team’s return in the wee hours Wednesday morning as the bus hit the Hathaway Bridge, the team got an escort back to the school courtesy the Panama City Beach Police Department. I spoke with head coach Larry Cecchini about that Wednesday afternoon, and how much it meant to the players who say, given the big spotlight on the undefeated boy’s team, they’ve felt a bit of a shadow on them.

“I got on the microphone on the bus as we were first approaching the bridge” the coach said “and told them ‘hey, you know you’ve been bugging me about getting recognition. Be prepared to be recognized!’ So they all woke up and they got up, and I said get your cameras ready. They had such a great time with it, they were all taking videos and pictures and sending them out and talking about being celebrities and things like that. It was super cool for them to do that for them, and the ladies really, really appreciated it.”

Oh by the way, this the first berth ever in the state final four for this Arnold girl’s program. That match comes against Lemon Bay down a little north of Fort Myers Friday.

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