Team work and determination were the driving forces behind the Destin Marlins 3-1 victory over the Ruckel Rams Thursday night in the Okaloosa County Middle School Girl’s Soccer Championship game played at Twin Oaks in Niceville.
“The girls wanted it. Every year they wanted it ... they wanted to beat Ruckel,” said Destin Coach Demetris Stevens. “They wanted the championship, but they wanted to prove how far we’ve come as a program.”
Last year athletics in the county were divided into a small school and big school division. Destin won the small school division. However, this year they were all lumped together into one division.
"As far back as I can remember, they were the team to beat,“ Stevens said of Ruckel. ”They are the high water mark.
“It’s really, really a big deal when you beat the team from across the bridge,” he added.
Destin didn’t waste any time showing they came to play. The Marlins scored about 10 minutes in on a breakaway by Ally Dowdy.
Ruckel threatened about midway of the first half, but the Destin goal keep kept them out of the net.
In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Destin made more than a half dozen shots on goal, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
In the second half with 12 minutes left to play, Ruckel tied up the game with a cross kick from right to left.
Six minutes later, Dowdy had a chance at a penalty kick but the ball went high over the cross bar.
However, with two minutes left to play, Dowdy made a run with the ball and then slid down while still getting a boot on the ball and put it in the net for 2-1 lead.
In the last 10 seconds, Destin’s Keelie Kleppinger kicked one in right up the middle to lock up a 3-1 win.
"I’m really proud of these girls as young as we are,“ Stevens said.
The Marlins had only one seventh grader and four eighth graders.
“We had a lot of fifth and sixth graders that played a lot of good minutes for us this year and scored some big goals for us, like Kellie Kleppinger, a sixth grader that scored the sealing goal at the end,” he said.
Stevens also spoke highly of his two co-captains, Dowdy and Jareny Enriquez, and the leadership they have provided the last three years.
When the captains were asked what won it for them the answer was a resounding “teamwork.”
"Our team and just keeping positive vibes,“ Enriquez said.
“We were definitely more relaxed. We just played our best the entire 60 minutes,” Dowdy added.
Dowdy said they have played games where they have had 20 good minutes, but “this has just really been a good game overall,”
As for her sliding goal, “I was just like ’I got to get this or we’re done. This is my last game. There is nothing left,’” Dowdy said.
“This feels really good ... feels like a huge accomplishment,” Enriquez added.