Malaya Melancon, far right, looks on in amusement during pregame introductions as First Baptist Academy prepares to host Evangelical Christian in a Class 1A-District 8 tournament semifinal on Jan. 29. GREGG HARDY/CSI
The First Baptist Academy girls soccer team failed to get that first-ever district championship Friday night. The Lions left their home field a dejected bunch after a 3-1 loss to Canterbury School — the only team to beat them this season.
And we don’t know how far they’re going to get at regionals — starting with tonight’s quarterfinal matchup in Bradenton against Class 1A-District 7 champion Saint Stephen’s Episcopal (11-3).
This much seems clear, though: the Lions (15-2-3) have legitimized themselves as a powerhouse within Collier County — if not all of Southwest Florida. Just ask vastly bigger Collier programs Naples (which FBA defeated earlier this season) and Lely and Gulf Coast (which FBA tied).
Or ask Evangelical Christian, which for years mercy-ruled the Lions but was beaten by them last Tuesday in the semifinals of the 1A-8 tournament. Earlier this season, the Lions beat the Sentinels for the first time ever.
“It means the world to us. We’re closing the gap on a lot of schools around here,” coach Jackyson Bazile said after last week’s 2-1 home win over Evangelical.
FBA’s transformation began three years ago with the hiring of Bazile and the emergence of Malaya Melancon, a born goal scorer who has 165 tallies over the last four seasons. Bazile, who played football at Naples High under Collier County coaching icon Bill Kramer, took over a First Baptist program that was … well, let’s just say opponents viewed the Lions as an easy W back then. (They went 4-12-3 in the season prior to Bazile’s arrival.)
Having Melancon, now a junior, on the roster certainly made Bazile’s job easier. She scored 24 goals in the 2015-16 season as the Lions went 10-8-2. The real breakthrough occurred in the 2016-17 season as the Lions went 19-4 and made it to regionals for the first time. Melancon scored 46 goals that season, cementing her status as one of the area’s elite scorers.
After missing out on the playoffs last year despite another above-.500 campaign (13-8) and 51 goals from Melancon, the Lions looked poised (at least, on paper) to slide further back this season. With just one senior in the starting lineup, Bazile needed some of his younger players to step up and support Melancon. At Bazile’s insistence, the Lions hit the weight room hard this summer. The result: Several of those younger players have indeed stepped up.
Sophomore Rose Pierre — a basketball player who did not start playing soccer until last season — won the goalkeeper’s job. Bazile said she’s “grown tremendously.”
Freshman Kendra Guevara scored the game-winner against Evangelical last week. Bazile said he and the players have been trying to build Guevara’s confidence this season.
“Kendra was just at the right spot at the right time,” Bazile recalled Guevara’s second-half goal against the Sentinels — which came after the ball bounced around in the box following a corner kick. “Normally she would pass it, but tonight she pulled the trigger.”
Then there’s sixth-grader Ariana Cintron, whose first-half goal gave the Lions a 1-0 lead over Canterbury in the district title game. She also made a key play early in the semifinal win over Evangelical when she took a pass from Lorena Alvarado and broke in on the Sentinels goalie before being tackled inside the box. Melancon took the penalty kick and buried it.
Cintron’s 10 goals this season are second on the team to Melancon’s 44.
“I think she’s going to be the one that replaces Malaya. She’s right there,” Bazile said of Cintron.
Melancon, who’s been playing for FBA since she was in sixth grade, is excited to see what these Lions can accomplish. She thinks this squad has the talent to make a run at states.
“We have a lot of talent this year, especially the young ones,” Melancon said. “We have a bunch of middle schoolers now. They’re really helping us a lot. We made it to regionals a couple years ago, and we didn’t have this much talent, so I’m looking forward to see what’s going to come now.”
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at email@example.com.