Sarah Christiansen's winner lifts Fletcher past Mandarin in Gateway Conference girls soccer

·4 min read

In Denmark, there's no Gateway Conference soccer tournament.

But even more than 4,500 miles from home, for Sarah Christiansen, the game remained the same.

The junior midfielder from across the Atlantic scored the game-winning overtime goal to lead Fletcher past Mandarin 2-1 in double OT on Friday night at Losco Regional Park, helping the Senators repeat as Gateway Conference girls soccer champions.

"They supported me through the whole game and they really thought that I was going to score this goal," Christiansen said.

Since Christiansen's arrival as an international exchange student from Denmark's capital city of Copenhagen this summer, the highlights have kept on coming. She's found the net for eight goals in her last four games, including hat tricks against Matanzas and the Gateway Conference quarterfinal against Paxon, and scored four goals in a Dec. 15 rout of Menendez.

Fletcher midfielder Sarah Christiansen (8) shoots the game-winning goal as Mandarin goalkeeper Miranda Lamb (0) tries to save the ball in overtime of the Gateway Conference girls soccer championship on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union
Fletcher midfielder Sarah Christiansen (8) shoots the game-winning goal as Mandarin goalkeeper Miranda Lamb (0) tries to save the ball in overtime of the Gateway Conference girls soccer championship on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union

When the ball came to her this time in the 88th minute, Senators coach Bradley Plummer wasn't surprised to see what happened next.

"She's a very skilled player in small spaces," Plummer said. "She really doesn't need much of a window. If she gets some space, more often than not, it [the shot] is on frame, and that's really all you can ask for."

Fletcher needed near-perfection to get a shot past Mandarin goalkeeper Miranda Lamb, who denied them time and again with more than a dozen saves. But even Lamb couldn't stop Christiansen's ace game-winner, after she dribbled down the right wing and curled a shot to the top corner in the 88th minute — a finish that strongly resembled her opening score in Wednesday's Gateway semifinal victory against Atlantic Coast.

Then again, based on her family ties to the sport, her clutch goal should be no surprise.

Fletcher players celebrate their Gateway Conference girls soccer championship at Losco Regional Park on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
Fletcher players celebrate their Gateway Conference girls soccer championship at Losco Regional Park on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

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Her father, Claus Christiansen, lined up as a fullback for Denmark's national team in the early 1990s and played a key part in the brightest moment of the nation's sports history: His header out of defense set up Kim Vilfort for the second and clinching goal when the Danes stunned reigning World Cup champion Germany 2-0 to win the 1992 European Championship, completing one of soccer's most fabled underdog stories.

On Friday, Mandarin was the team that looked like pulling off an upset, thanks to the breakaway speed of freshman forward Taliah Brooks. Playing as a lone striker for most of the night, she raced down the left wing, leaving Fletcher defenders in her wake, and set up Courtney Allen for a close-range opening goal in the 33rd minute.

Fletcher fought back, mounting sustained pressure and finally tying the score in the 45th minute, when Bowen Phillips drove in a shot from the left after a high far-post cross.

Fletcher forward Angelina Madera (14), Mandarin defender Keagan Miller (7) and Mandarin goalkeeper Miranda Lamb (0) pursue a loose ball in the box during  the Gateway Conference high school girls soccer championship on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]
Fletcher forward Angelina Madera (14), Mandarin defender Keagan Miller (7) and Mandarin goalkeeper Miranda Lamb (0) pursue a loose ball in the box during the Gateway Conference high school girls soccer championship on January 14, 2022. [Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

Mandarin dropped deeper and deeper into defense, leaning on Lamb's shot-blocking and vital tackles from center backs Abril Gomez and Keagan Miller. The Senators' Phillips, Angelina Madera and Josey Rossignol repeatedly tested Lamb from long distance, and Allison Aquino clanked a low shot off the post in the 78th minute. Finally, as a penalty-kick tiebreaker loomed, Christiansen produced her magical moment.

"We felt like they were trying to defend the middle but give up the flanks, and once we found that space on the flanks, we were hoping to maybe work the space on the outside to get around those defensive blocks," Plummer said.

Goalkeeper Taylor Sweat and defender Mia Diaz commanded a Fletcher defense that neutralized Mandarin for most of the evening.

Mandarin missed out on the chance to become the first school to sweep Gateway boys and girls soccer titles since Stanton in 2015. The Senators, meanwhile, picked up their first set of back-to-back Gateway trophies since the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

"I'm really happy that I did [score], and I'm just really happy to be a part of this team," Christiansen said.

Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Fletcher girls soccer beats Mandarin in 2022 Gateway Conference final

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