The boys soccer teams along the North Suncoast have proven once again that Florida isn’t just a football state.
With Mitchell and Wiregrass Ranch taking the top two seeds in Class 4A, District 8, and Sunlake undefeated in 3A-8, local teams could go far in the upcoming postseason.
While it’s easy to spot the teams’ top scorers, what’s often overlooked is the impressive play in goal that’s vaulted North Suncoast teams to the top this year.
Sunlake has forced 17 shutouts, Mitchell has 11 and Wiregrass Ranch eight.
And it’s not just the top seeds who are turning in stellar defensive play in goal. Hudson has three keepers tallying more than 40 saves each. Weeki Wachee, seeded third in 3A-7, boasts junior Mike Van Slee’s whopping 179 saves and 1.58 goals-against average.
Wiregrass coach David Wilson said the Bulls (15-1-2) are fortunate to have keeper Alex Cypriano on board this year. He played junior varsity during his first two years and didn’t play as a junior.
Cypriano said he took a year off because, after playing since he was 3 or 4 years old, he was tired of the game. He planned to finish his club season and quit, but his parents nudged him to come back to Wiregrass this year.
“Besides him, we only have young kids for goalie,” Wilson said. “Without him, I don’t know where we would be right now.”
The Bulls have kept teams to a combined 17 goals, and Cypriano boasts 68 saves and nine shutouts. Wilson and Cypriano attribute his success to time spent in the gym the past year. He gained 15 pounds of muscle without losing his quickness or reflexes.
“He just brings that leadership to the team that you usually don’t get out of a freshman or sophomore,” Wilson said.
The Bulls have two regular-season games left before districts, and Wilson expects them to keep improving.
“This is probably the best chemistry in a team I’ve ever had,” said Wilson, who is in his 25th year of coaching.
For the Mustangs (18-2-1), who have held opponents to 16 total goals, Mitchell Szydlowski’s year-by-year improvement has made them one of the county’s most dangerous teams.
“I honestly think that Mitch — our goalie — is the best in the county, and I wouldn’t take anybody over him,” coach Oscar Ubillus said. “He’s exceeded our expectations of what he should do this season.”
Ubillus said Szydlowski didn’t barrel into Mitchell with jaw-dropping talent, but has improved consistently every year to reach this point. The senior, who has 43 saves and eight shutouts, is focusing on improving his distribution of kicks and upping his confidence.
Ubillus said as long as Szydlowski continues playing as he has been, there’s no reason Mitchell won’t have a successful 4A postseason run.
“He’s a big reason why we’ve gotten to where we are now, and why we’ll keep going,” Ubillus said.
Sunlake (22-1-1) has topped its district, limiting opponents to 14 goals. Sophomore Danny Hrenko — who has some of the best numbers in the area with 107 saves and 17 shutouts — said an older and powerful defensive line supports him.
“I think I could have done better this year,” he said.
He added that last year’s Sunlake team, which went 30-1 and reached the state semifinals, set the bar high, building the Seahawks up for this season. Hrenko’s personal objective for the rest of the season is appropriately ambitious.
“To not let any more goals in,” he said without needing a moment to consider. “That’s it — to not let any more in.”
Mary Kenney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @MaryKNews.
4A-8 at Leto
Monday: No. 5 Gaither vs. No. 4 Freedom, 7
Tuesday: No. 6 Chamberlain vs. No. 3 Sickles, 6; No. 7 Leto vs. No. 2 Wiregrass Ranch, 8
Jan. 22: No. 1 Mitchell vs. Gaither-Freedom winner, 6; Leto-Wiregrass winner vs. Chamberlain-Sickles winner, 8
Jan. 24: Final, 7
3A-8 at Gulf
Monday: No. 2 River Ridge vs. No. 7 Wesley Chapel, 6; No. 8 Zephyrhills vs. No. 9 Ridgewood, 8
Tuesday: No. 3 Land O'Lakes vs. No. 6 Anclote, 4; No. 4 Pasco vs. No. 5 Gulf, 6; No. 1 Sunlake vs. Zephyrhills-Ridgewood winner, 8
Jan. 23: Semifinals, 6 and 8
Jan. 24: Final, 7
3A-7 at Weeki Wachee
Monday: No. 8 Central vs. No. 9 Crystal River, 6
Tuesday: No. 2 Citrus vs. No. 7 Hudson, 2; No. 4 Nature Coast vs. No. 5 Fivay, 4; No. 1 Springstead vs. Central-CR winner, 6; No. 3 Weeki vs. No. 6 Hernando, 8
Jan. 22: Semifinals, 6 and 8
Jan. 24: Final, 7
A-5 at Bishop McLaughlin
Tuesday (various sites): No. 8 Tampa Bay HEAT at No. 1 Carrollwood Day, 4; No. 7 Brooks DeBartolo at No. 2 Bishop McLaughlin, 4:30; No. 6 Academy at the Lakes at No. 3 Cambridge Christian, 3:30; No. 5 Universal at No. 4 Seffner Christian, 4
Jan. 24: CDS-HEAT winner vs. Seffner-Universal winner, 5; AATL-Cambridge vs.Bishop-BD winner, 7
Jan. 25: Final, 2