Following a 4-1 victory at Tate High on Saturday, the Gulf Breeze girls soccer team formed a line at midfield, joined hands and took a bow for Dolphins fans at Pete Gindl Stadium.
The Dolphins (18-3-4) had just finished a stellar regular season -- which included a 19-game unbeaten streak -- and there was much to celebrate.
"The dedication of these girls is the best I've seen it in my four years here," Gulf Breeze coach Ryan Davenport said. "No one ever missed practices. Everyone shows up to every game, every practice, whether they're injured or not. They all just want to be around each other and support each other.
"They just have a great team chemistry."
That chemistry has translated to wins this season for the Dolphins, who finished 6-0 in District 1-3A.
But today marks the start of another season: the postseason. And on Wednesday, the top-seeded Dolphins begin their quest to avenge the disappointment of last year when the team was denied a spot in the district championship game for the first time in 20 seasons.
"Winning the district title would mean a lot," said Davenport, whose team plays fourth-seeded Washington at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Dolphins Stadium. "I've got three girls on the team who were on varsity their freshmen year, and that was the last time this team has won a district championship. So it would mean the world, especially to them, to go out with a district win."
Those three seniors are Allison Proctor, Korrie Abernathy and Sara Papantonio. All three were key in the Dolphins' district semifinal victory three years ago that helped them get into the finals, where they shut out Crawfordville Wakulla, 4-0. The title was at least the Dolphins' eighth in a row.
This season, the three players remain a dominant factor in the Dolphins' success. Proctor is first on the team in goals (16) and has seven assists. Abernathy has scored 14 goals this season, while Papantonio helps control midfield.
Freshman standout Kiersten Edlund also will be a player to watch. The midfielder is first on the team in points (44) with 15 goals and 14 assists.
Another key for Gulf Breeze will be focus, Davenport said.
"We have to stay dedicated," he said. "We've got Washington on Wednesday, and even though we beat them 8-0 (twice during the regular season), we can't look past them. This is the game that really matters."
And the one that could send the Dolphins where they've spent much of the past two decades -- in the state playoffs.
Last year was just the third time in 24 years that Gulf Breeze -- which won Class 2A state championships in 2000 and 2001 -- didn't advance out of district.
"This season has given the girls a huge confidence boost and has been a huge accomplishment," Davenport said. "I mean, we started the season 2-2-2, and to finish 18-3-4, that's not too bad. A district title on top of the year that we've had would mean so much to this team."
Catholic High (17-2-4) also has had a successful season and enters the District 1-2A tournament as the No. 1 seed.
But when the Crusaders -- who are 9-0-1 in district play -- open the tournament on Tuesday at Gorecki-LeBeau Stadium, they're not taking a win for granted.
"I think that we're all on the same page -- that we're not going to go in there thinking that a district win is in the bag," Catholic coach Breck Smith said. "It's one game at a time, and it's a win-or-go-home situation. I think they understand that."
Other than a scoreless tie against Panama City Bay on Dec. 14, the Crusaders have outscored their district opponents 62-0.
The Crusaders' No. 1 seed earned them a bye for the quarterfinals. They'll play either No. 5 Marianna or No. 4 Walton at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"We just want to finish out the season the right way," Smith said. "Whether we win or lose, we just want a good ending to the season."
In this district, Niceville, Pace and tournament host Navarre all have a chance at winning the title.
The Eagles are the No. 1 seed and have made state playoff appearances 12 times in the past 14 years. But Pace and Navarre have shown that they may have what it takes to dethrone Niceville.
The Patriots battled the Eagles to a 1-1 tie on Dec. 13, and the Raiders fell just 1-0 to Niceville in November.
Navarre and Pace play in the semifinals on Tuesday. Escambia and Pine Forest kick off the tournament in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. today.