“We’re like family," Seabreeze's Kara Haas said. "We’re all willing to lay out for one another.”
Before the start of the season, the players and coaches of Seabreeze’s girls soccer team gather around a soccer ball — but this specific ball is never to be kicked or headed.
With much thought and careful penmanship, players wrote a word that means something to them about their team. The “Spirit Ball” is passed around until every player writes something down.
The Sandcrabs’ Kim Merkel started the tradition when she became head coach of the team five years ago.
“Family,” “hard work” and “tough” are just a few of the hundreds of words written in black and blue on the ball, which has been accumulating terms for the past two seasons. (Merkel has the original ball stashed away in the trunk of her car.)
Before each game and at halftime, the players gather around the ball and put their fingers to the word they want the team to embody that night.
A new word, written in red, appeared on the ball for the Sandcrabs’ game against Eustis on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 4 — their toughest challenger so far this season.
“I’m a big believer in tradition,” Merkel said after the Sandcrabs’ 5-1 win. “And when you provide a foundation like that, you’re team grows with it.”
“I was a little bit nervous about what we’d have as far as speed and experience. I think we’re getting it together.”
Seabreeze coach Kim Merkel
The Sandcrabs, despite losing key players from last year’s team that won 15 games, are undefeated so far this season. The Sandcrabs lost Alauna Neely, Kaylee Haas and Taylor Nirschl — all three of whom were team captains — to graduation last season.
However, stepping into their places are Abby Gabriel, Gabi Griffin and Kara Haas, Kaylee’s younger sister.
“I think we’ve put a lot on our underclassmen this year,” Gabriel said. “But the whole team is coming together to fill in the gaps. We’ve figured out our weaknesses and fixed them.”
Their main weakness: The Sandcrabs lack height and struggle getting to balls in the air. As a result, the Sandcrabs rely more on their exceptional passing abilities.
But above all skill, Merkel said she wants her team to have confidence.
“I want the girls to believe in themselves. If you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right either way,” she said. “I need them to believe that they can because they truly can. I need them to remember that.”