By Amanda Hatfield
MELBOURNE -- Winning a state championship title during one's high school career, while incredible, is a lofty goal for most.
Two state titles? A pipe dream.
However, that pipe dream is, remarkably, a reality for several senior members of the Lady Bulldogs soccer team at Melbourne High School.
Seniors Riley Collins and Alex Koeing are a part of Melbourne High history, claiming state championships during their freshman and senior years, respectively.
Despite her recent success, Riley, a forward for the Lady Bulldogs, started freshman year off on a sour note.
"I broke my tailbone right before the season started," Riley said. "It was slightly bruised before, but I hit it during speed training and hurt it even more at a tournament in Savannah."
After getting X-rays, Riley was informed that her tailbone had a slight fracture.
"Since I couldn't play, I managed the team freshman year," Riley said.
Team captain and center back, Alex, played all four years of her high school career.
"The thing about Riley is that she's always been such an impact player, so when she was hurt, it was really sad," Alex said. "Having her on the team this year was like seeing that old spark come back in her; it was so exciting."
As team captain, Alex was given many responsibilities.
"Our team was really incredible, so I didn't have to be a disciplinary leader," Alex added. "It was more like, if anyone needed someone to talk to, I was there for them."
Alex's duties as captain also doubled as the team's cheerleader.
"Before big games, especially in post-season, I was there to pump everyone up before we took the field."
Winning the Florida High School Athletic Association's state championship as a freshman was a major success.
"The older girls on the team had won state the year before," Alex said. "Repeating was the goal, and obtaining that was absolutely incredible."
However, Alex and Riley's sophomore and junior seasons would be much more challenging.
"In past years, we made it to the state semifinals and regional finals," Alex said. "At that point, I think we didn't have as much belief in ourselves as a team."
Their senior season proved to be completely different.
"Going into this year, our biggest challenge was believing we could actually make it to and win state," Alex said.
With an incredibly talented roster, the Lady Bulldogs finished their season with an astounding 25-0-1 record.
"This year felt different, like we were a new team," Alex said. "Once we got to post-season, everyone was focused on where we needed to be."
The one tie the Lady Bulldogs had was to the Rockledge Raiders.
"The tie against Rockledge was a major wake-up call," Riley said. "Even though Rockledge has a great program, we knew we could be better."
With the tie serving as a great learning experience, the Lady Bulldogs tidied up where they needed to and surged forward.
After sitting on the sidelines for her freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons, Riley almost didn't play for the team.
"I talked to Coach Rosie Lord after tryouts, and she told me that she definitely wanted to offer me a spot on the team," Riley said.
The only unknown would be the amount of playing time Riley would get.
"Being a substitute didn't matter to me," Riley said. "I just wanted to be a part of the team, and I got a lot more time than I expected, especially in the post-season."
Both girls are seasoned soccer stars, gracing the pitch since they were 3 years old. Riley began playing competitively at age 9 and Alex began in the sixth-grade.
While soccer tends to be a popular sport amongst all ages, playing for such an extended period of time can be rare, especially at the competitive level and with two infamous coaches.
"Coach Mike and Rosie Lord's style of coaching is known county-wide: running, running, and running," Alex said.
The constant and highly demanding movement scares many players away.
"I didn't get burned out because of the seasons I spent on the sidelines with my injury," Riley said. "I planned on playing throughout high school, but being injured made me want to get out there even more."
"After my freshman year, I considered not playing again," Alex said. "The coaches were really hard on me, and it was super challenging."
Despite her initial desire to quit, Alex remained with the Lady Bulldogs.
"I'm so glad I stuck it out, and I feel so much stronger for it," Alex said.
Going up against the Lakeland-based George Jenkins High School on February 9, the Lady Bulldogs were focused.
"The game was tough and we had some injuries, but we knew exactly what we needed to do in order to win state," Alex said.
As regulation and overtime expired, the realization of going to penalty kicks hit the Lady Bulldogs.
"At the end of practice every day, we do penalty kicks," Riley said. "I knew we would be prepared, but everyone was really exhausted after playing a tough game."
Riley, along with four other Lady Bulldogs, was selected to take the penalty kicks during the game.
"I was surprised when I was chosen," Riley said.
But Alex had confidence in her friend and teammate.
"I knew Riley could make it since she always made penalty kicks in practice," Alex added. "Plus, she was more rested than those of us who played a majority of the 100 minutes."
As Riley's cleat contacted the ball, she and her team watched a familiar sight: the ball strategically flying past the keeper and straight into net.
"Taking the penalty kick was definitely something to be nervous about, but I was confident and knew I had done it in practice plenty of times," Riley said.
With George Jenkins' keeper just 14 years old, Riley had experience over her adversary.
"The keeper was young, but so good and will continue to improve," Riley said. "I know that George Jenkins' will be a good team for years to come."
Prior to lining up for the crucial penalty kicks, Alex was approached by Lady Bulldogs' keeper, Riley Grier.
"Riley [Grier] came up to me and said, 'I'm so pumped, I'm gonna save every shot,'" said Alex. "I believed her, and even though she saved just one, that's all we needed."
"Saving a penalty kick is something that shouldn't happen," Riley added. "By Grier saving that one, it set the tone for the rest of the penalty kicks; it made it a mental game."
Winning a state title was an honor for the Lady Bulldogs, but winning a state title on their home field was the icing on the cake.
"A lot of girls from the 1987 and 2009 state championship teams were at our game," Riley said. "Everyone was great, and it felt like we were a big family."
"I cried after the game," Alex said. "I wish I could find the words to describe the feeling of winning on our field, but I can't; it's that good."
With so many memories on the field, Riley felt like a win on their home turf was a perfect way to end the season and their high school careers.
"Going out as a champion is all we could ever ask for now," she said.
Following a successful season, the two champions are looking forward to their futures in college.
"Neither one of us plans on playing competitively in college," Alex said.
"While we may play on intramural teams, our focus is on school," Riley added.
Alex will be attending the University of Central Florida in Orlando in August.
"My goal is to go to medical school, so I'll be majoring in biomedical sciences," Alex said. "I'd like to go into dermatology or anesthesiology."
Like her teammate, Riley plans to study medicine.
"I'll be going to the University of Florida in June," Riley said. "I'm not too sure what concentration I'll go into, but I've always had an interest in dentistry and dermatology."
The two are also hoping to rush sororities at their respective schools.
"My mom and aunt were in the same sorority at University of Florida," Riley said. "I never thought sorority life would be a good fit for me, but after talking to some friends that are Greek, I'm going to rush."
For now, these wonderful young ladies are looking forward to advanced placement exams, the prom and, of course, graduation.
"I have a countdown on my phone," Riley said. "It's so hard to believe graduation is so close."
"Yeah, but to go out as champions freshman and senior year made high school perfect," Alex added. "I can't think of a better way to end my senior year."