The Florida Gulf Coast University women’s soccer team is becoming a national powerhouse, with one Collier County product in the middle of it all.
Gulf Coast High School graduate Zoey Spitzer played 39 minutes off the bench as FGCU took down a Power 5 program for the third time this season Friday. The Eagles’ 1-0 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, helped maintain their undefeated start to the season and followed up victories over Alabama and Michigan.
“I feel our team has the potential to be really good this year because so far every win has been a collective effort (with) hard-working energy coming from the team as a whole,” said Spitzer, who nearly doubled her playing time (79 minutes) and registered one shot in Sunday’s scoreless tie at Dayton. “I feel we could make it further in the NCAA tournament than ever before based on our sheer effort and (the) good team chemistry we have this year.”
The draw against Dayton’s Flyers was a bit of a disappointment for the Eagles considering they played a little more than half the game up a player following a red card against the hosts.
As FGCU inches its way toward a possible Top-25 ranking, goalkeeper Melissa Weck received the Eagles’ first-ever National Player of the Week honor following back-to-back shutouts. She’ll try to make it three in a row as FGCU travels to Miami to play in-state rival FIU on Thursday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.
Spitzer was sidelined for the Eagles’ first three games. She said “it took me a few games to get adjusted” but now feels “completely back to normal playing in the game.”
Playing on the road against teams from the Power 5 conferences is nothing new to Spitzer. Last season (when she was named to the Atlantic Sun Conference’s all-freshmen team), Spitzer logged heavy action in games at South Carolina (77 minutes in a 2-1 loss), Arizona (90 minutes in a 1-0 win) and Arizona State (70 minutes in a 2-1 loss).
Spitzer was a junior on the 2015-16 Gulf Coast High girls soccer team that reached the regional finals and came within a goal of making it to states. Even playing for a state title-contending team in high school, Spitzer said there’s a noticeable difference in crowd size at the college level — particularly against a Power 5 opponent.
Playing in front of the bigger schools’ home crowd makes her more at ease.
“Everyone in the crowd at my high school games were my family and friends or people I recognized,” Spitzer said. “Not recognizing most of the faces in the crowd relieves some of the pressure of performing perfectly, allowing me to feel more comfortable on the field.”
Led by a couple of former Collier County high school standouts, the FGCU men’s golf team had a stellar beginning to its 2018-2019 season. The Eagles finished fifth in the 14-team Golfweek Program Challenge that concluded Tuesday at True Blue Golf Course in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Senior Andrew Potter, a 2015 graduate from Community School of Naples who’s been one of the Eagles’ most dependable golfers since he joined the program three years ago, posted his ninth career top-ten finish. He shot 5 under par over the three days and tied for 10th place.
Potter owned the Eagles’ low round for the tourney — playing at 2-under on Sunday and Monday — until his younger teammate from Collier County, Seacrest Country Day School graduate Chase Bigham, closed out his FGCU debut by shooting a final-round 69.
“I felt a little nervous going into the tournament because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Bigham, who shot 74-72-69 to tie for 24th along with teammate Cole Castro. “The biggest adjustment was the course setup. College events play longer and tougher than junior events. They put pins in tough spots so you really have to pick and choose when to be aggressive. I quickly adjusted my game plan to get the best results I could.”
Bigham, who was part of a Seacrest team last year that finished third in the state championships, received high praise from FGCU coach Eric Booker.
“Most players don’t play that well in their debut into Division I competition,” Booker said. “His game is solid, and to his credit has improved every year since I gave him a spot on the team a few years ago. He’s one of those players that truly has a passion for the game, and a desire to get better.”
FGCU will be back in action Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 17-18, in the San Hill Intercollegiate in Hattiesburg, Miss.