East Lake made a long run in the Class 5A playoffs last season, advancing to the region final before losing in overtime to Winter Garden West Orange. That capped a 15-4-4 season.
This season, it looks like the rich get richer.
While there were some key graduations, the Eagles have more than enough returning talent. So much, in fact, that coach Alex Stenson has had a hard time coming up with a starting 11.
“We probably have more depth this season, but we kind of lack that power,” Stenson said. “(Defender) Steven Wankat and (midfielder) Mathias (Ghiena) provided that for us last season. As of yet we don’t have that attitude. But I will say we are more team-oriented this season.”
Perhaps the key returner is senior forward Josh Page. A move-in from Philadelphia last season, he scored 21 goals and was named the Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County Player of the Year.
Page isn’t the only scoring threat. Tanner Young and Pierre Goris joined the team this season after playing academy soccer last year. Both are scoring threats and Stenson said all three can play forward.
Midfielders George Tarantino and Alex Ramirez and defender Daniel Mahler are other key additions to the starting lineup. And just for good measure, the Eagles have three top-notch goalkeepers. Junior Sean Caulfield is currently a goalkeeper for the U.S. Region 3 Premier team, but he could return near the end of the season.
That leaves Nate Himes and last year’s starter, Jeff Richmond, to fight it out for the starting spot.
“Last year we had a great team,” Page said. “This year, it’s the same thing. I don’t see a difference. We have a great group of seniors. And there are other players who have stepped in as well. It also helped that we got Tanner and Pierre.”
The Eagles (6-0) will play with a target on their backs this season. They play in one of the toughest districts in the state, which includes Palm Harbor University, Countryside, Plant, Steinbrenner and Alonso.
If they can get out of that district, the sky’s the limit.
“The potential is there,” Stenson said. “We have to clean up a few things, but this team is certainly talented enough to go far.”
Players to watch
Shane Butler, Sr., F, Seminole: Had 17 goals and 10 assists last season and was a first-team Times’ all-county selection. He returns as the Warhawks’ top goal threat. Has 11 goals in seven games.
Caulin Donaldson, Sr. F, Osceola: Top scoring threat returns for the Warriors. He had 16 goals last season and six this season.
Oswald Francis, Jr., F, St. Petersburg: “Junior,” as he is known to teammates, came up with huge goals last season. He already has 11 goals in six games this season, including three against Seminole.
Kieran McGeough, Jr., MF, Palm Harbor University: A Times’ first-team all-county selection last season, McGeough will again play a big role at midfield. Has the ability to score as well as assist.
Josh Page, Sr., F, East Lake: Last year’s Times’ Player of the Year, Page is off to another hot start. He has eight goals in five games and has a knack for scoring big goals. He had two second-half goals against Plant in a crucial 2-1 district win last Tuesday.
Gage Plentovich, Sr., GK, Calvary Christian: An athletic keeper who gets to more than his share of balls, according to coach Kyle Stanton. With a young team, Plentovich will be counted on to keep the Warriors in games.
Stevie Rudderham, Jr., MF, Northeast: A deft ball handler, Rudderham scored 21 goals last season. He will be the Vikings’ main threat again this season and is sure to face his share of double teams.
Ethan Singer, So., MF, Countryside: Coach Sean Nolan calls Singer a smooth ball handler who controls the middle of the field. He has three goals for the young Cougars.
Records through Monday
1. East Lake (6-0): The Eagles made it to regionals last season and appear to be even better this season. Loaded with club and academy players, the Eagles are a state contender.
2. St. Petersburg (6-0): The Green Devils have already beaten all three teams in their district. They have outscored opponents 25-4 in six games and earned a big win over Seminole.
3. Seminole (4-3): Coach Rick Masi is still tinkering with his lineup. There is talent, and when the Warhawks find their roles they will be a dangerous team.
4. Palm Harbor University (4-2): The Hurricanes have enough talent to survive a killer district that includes East Lake and Countryside. Their losses were to Seminole and Steinbrenner.
5. Shorecrest (7-0): The Chargers already have quality wins over Tampa Catholic and Carrollwood Day. Chargers also have district wins over Canterbury, Indian Rocks Christian, Admiral Farragut, Keswick Christian and Calvary Christian.
6. Osceola (4-1-2): The Warriors, a region playoff team last season, have nine starters returning. First loss came against Seminole on Friday.
7. Clearwater (4-1-1): After an opening-game loss to East Lake, the Tornadoes have won four and tied Northeast on Thursday. They are playing in this week’s Nike Thanksgiving tournament.