LAND O’LAKES — Some games, there is just not a lot to do for Land O’Lakes goalkeeper Kody Parker.
Most nights, the senior stands between the posts, a spectator watching his team overwhelm another opponent from one of the best vantage points in the stadium.
It gets bone-chillingly cold, standing still for 40 minutes at a time without any action to get the blood pumping.
It also gets rather lonely.
“It’s fun being back there because I love it and I’ve played goalie my whole life,” Parker said. “But there are games in high school where it gets a little boring back there.
In jumping out to a 10-0 start to the season, Land O’Lakes has established itself as the area’s premier defensive team. Astoundingly, the Gators have allowed only one goal, that coming in the season opener against Lecanto when the defense was still experimenting with personnel groupings and alignments.
The Gators have recorded nine straight shutouts. And in a lot of those victories, Parker is rarely tested, playing behind a back line that has repelled the majority of opponents’ scoring opportunities.
“Some games I would definitely say I get bored,” Parker said. “There was a game where we were up 4-0 in the first five minutes, so Coach took me off and moved me up front.”
Entering the season, Land O’Lakes coach Mark Pearson was unsure how capable his defense could be. The Gators graduated their best defender, Frank Villar, a Times all-North Suncoast first-team selection a year ago. And with Jon Siragusa also graduating,
Pearson had some holes to fill.
“Our defense has really come together very well,” Pearson said. “We had to put things together last minute because we graduated half of our defense and kind of put it together this year for the first time.
Pearson’s smartest move was switching senior Zach Higgins from his center-midfield position to sweeper.
“He pretty much gave up 15 goals and 15 assists this season to play a position he doesn’t play,” Pearson said. “He’s been tremendous back there.”
Parker and Higgins play club soccer for RSL Florida, and their familiarity with each other helped ease Higgins’ transition to defense.
“Moving Zach to the back has been one of the big things that’s helped us get to where we are,” Parker said. “Our chemistry is really good. That has kept it tight in the back because both of us are communicating with the midfield.”
At left back for the Gators is Jake Morken, a senior who is a masterful distributor of the ball. On the right side, Frankie Pinciotti, a transfer from Sunlake, plays calm and smart.
The trio has kept things relatively quiet in front of Parker.
“Our midfield is pretty strong, too,” Higgins said. “The balls coming through the midfield are few and far between. … We hoped we could be this good, but I don’t know that we expected to give up only one goal through 10 games though.”
Even that goal, which took a deflection away from Parker, catching him off guard, was somewhat of a fluke.
“I’d do anything to get that one back,” said Parker, who is trying to break Alex Spock’s school record of 17 shutouts in a season (2008-09). “It was a soft goal. I think if I could replay that one, I would definitely make the save.”