Soccer player

Florida High’s Koka Girls Football Player of the Year, Lincoln’s Williams Coach of the Year

2022 All-Big Bend Girls Football Player of the Year: Maddie Kopka, Florida High

Florida High senior Maddie Kopka’s football journey was long, but it was important to her that she would not change.

She started at Rickards her freshman and sophomore years, cracking the All-Big Bend first team her sophomore year by recording 31 goals and 24 assists. Halfway through her high school career, Kopka decided to change her mind and move to Florida High.

“I’ve known the coach for a very long time, and she was my coach when I was younger,” Kopka said. “I just wanted to go back and be under his guidance.”

Under Seminoles head coach Victoria Sachs, Kopka once again transitioned into a utility role, playing a handful of roles to help her team. Her senior season saw her not only find the back of the net, but also act as a spark plug on offense for Florida High. She scored 12 goals on the year and 58 shots.

Kopka’s versatile role for the Seminoles is one that has paid off not just for herself, but for her team as well, helping Florida High finish the season 10-4-4. Her versatile efforts named her the 2022 All-Big Bend Girls Football Player of the Year.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Kopka said. “That’s been my goal all through high school and I’ve seen quite a few people from my school and people I know win. I thought I’d take care of that.”

Florida High finished the 2021-22 season as a district runner-up and made one appearance in the regional quarterfinals. The Seminoles took the lead as one of the best teams in the region, but Kopka said it took a second for his team to find their groove.

“We had to work together a lot and it took us a little while to get there,” Kopka said. “I’m glad we did it and it’s the most important thing we’ve overcome.”

The Seminoles were a team that had a lot of pieces of work leading to their success and Kopka was a spark to start the offense. Her football career is not yet over as she will be heading to Trinity Washington University in Washington D.C. to play football at the Division III level. It’s a new experience that excites her and she can’t wait to be a part of.

“I’m so excited,” Kopka said. “I’m ready to leave Tallahassee and work on things that I really want to work on in DC.”

As she takes it to the next level, Kopka fondly reflects on her high school football experience. It went beyond the game and helped her not only grow as a player, but as a person.

“This experience meant everything. I love it,” Kopka said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it weren’t for football, especially in high school, because you have to deal with all kinds of people, good and bad. It was great and I don’t wouldn’t change a thing.”

2022 All-Big Bend Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year: Jono Williams, Lincoln

There has been a clash between two teams almost every season which has highlighted the year of winners. This game is between Lincoln and Chiles.

Since 2019, the Trojans have pursued the Timberwolves in the regular season and in the playoffs. This has allowed Chiles to take control of County dominance over the past two seasons, with Lincoln hot on their heels.

In a year that Lincoln dealt with injuries throughout and struggled to find stability, things came together at just the right time. Facing Chiles once again, this time in the district semi-finals, the showdown did not disappoint. For all the marbles, Lincoln came from 1-0 down to force extra time and ultimately won their first game against Chiles since 2019.

It was the pinnacle for a team that had spent so long struggling through injuries and different formations. This swung the rivalry in favor of the Trojans, sent Lincoln to the district championship and saw them advance to regionals, the only 6A team in Leon County to do so.

The Trojans’ progression from start to finish recognized Lincoln head coach Jono Williams as the 2022 All-Big Bend Girls Football Coach of the Year.

“I’ve been at Lincoln for eight years and the first five we couldn’t pass Leon, then the next two we couldn’t pass Chiles,” Williams said. “We proved we were the better of those two and I would love to say the team would beat in Tallahassee. It was a big moment for us.”

Depth was what was important for Trojans. With players moving in and out of the roster, his key players played where and when needed, and others stepped up when called upon. Sophomore Meredith Camron, Skye Williams and Big Bend senior Lily Dennis topped their positions, helping Lincoln hold steady.

“It was a bit of a weird year because we even started the year with injuries,” Williams said. “It was just the depth of our team and being able to rotate and fill in any position that was essential. It was really cool to see that even when we were short of people in important positions, we could replace with other players, go to our bench and stay competitive.”

There were some big lessons learned by the Trojans throughout the season as a whole. The regular season allowed Lincoln to play with what worked and what didn’t. Losses to Chiles and Maclay early on eventually saw Lincoln respond to win eight of 10 games that leaked to the playoffs.

The Chileans’ victory came down to the penalty shootout and proved that the regular season is a new beginning. The Trojans are eager to resume this mentality next season.

“The regular season is great. We can test ourselves and we can try different things, try different formations, people in different positions, but I think this year proves that it’s all about the playoffs,” Williams said. If you want to play your best football at the end of the year, and I think that’s what we’ve proven we do.”

Jack Williams covers prep sports for the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him by email at [email protected], on Twitter @jackgwilliams.