Under first-year Head Coach Guy Virgilio in 2018-19, the Falcons captured their first district championship since 2014 and advanced to regional play. Saint Stephen’s opened the season 9-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 1A before dropping four of its last six. That didn’t take any of the luster off a season that started with few expectations but finished with signature wins over Manatee, Braden River and an undefeated district record.

It was the renewal of a standard of success that defines the history of the program. Saint Stephen’s has had just one losing season and captured 11 district titles since 2000, including a string of five consecutive from 2008-12. The program obviously yielded immediate dividends in turning the reins over to Virgilio, one of the state’s most successful prep coaches. He was coaxed to leave Lakewood Ranch High after 18 seasons, where he led his teams to a combined record of 312-75-39, won 13 district championships, three regional championships, and appeared in three state Final Fours – the last in 2014.

Virgilio and the Falcons will now look to build on their initial success, but they’ll have to do it without their two top scorers from a season ago. The leading returning goal-makers are junior Elle Johnston (7) and senior Jackie Schlossberg (6), but seven other returning players scored at least twice. Where the Falcons clearly established their identity under Virgilio, however, was on the defensive end. SSES allowed less than a goal per game (.405) and posted nine shutouts in 2018-19. The Falcons didn’t surrender their first goal until the seventh game of the season. Strong defense will continue to be key.

Saint Stephen’s soccer has produced a group of stars who have gone on to play collegiately. Goalkeeper Shannon Morrish was 76-23-5 in five seasons as a Falcon and was part of four straight district champions. She was the team MVP in 2010 and played in 16 games during her career at Vanderbilt. Morgan Fragapane starred for the Falcons as a forward and then appeared in 51 matches at Presbyterian College in South Carolina. Hannah Howell was the Bradenton Herald player of the year in 2013, scored 101 career goals at SSES – including 39 as a senior – and signed with Georgetown University.