Newer programs surge as older neighbors see diminished success

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Thu. October 13, 2011 | Matt Baker | Email

Newer programs surge as older neighbors see diminished success

Glance atop the North Suncoast’s district standings and you’ll see two young schools, Fivay and Sunlake, in position for their first trips to the playoffs with perfect district records.

Look farther down and you’ll see the less pleasant side effects of the new schools — the older programs that stumble when a new team pops up.

Fifth-year program Sunlake (5-0, 3-0) is tied with Hernando for first in Class 6A, District 6 heading into tonight’s matchup. But just down the road, Land O’Lakes is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

In 5A-6, first-year (full) varsity program Fivay (4-1, 3-0) joins Pasco and Zephyrhills in a tie for first as Hudson and Ridgewood struggle nearby. (Fivay played a mixed JV/varsity schedule last season.)

“It’s just a product of having all these high schools within five, 10 minutes of each other,” Falcons coach Chris Taylor said. “Your talent pool is going to get withdrawn.”

The North Suncoast has seen this before. Pasco was an established power in the early 1990s and broke through with the county’s only state championship in 1992. When Wesley Chapel opened seven years later, the Pirates struggled through back-to-back 4-6 seasons.

River Ridge finished above .500 in four of five seasons from 1995-1999. After Mitchell opened, its average win total was slashed in half over the next five years.

Fivay’s neighbors are seeing similar effects now. Hudson and Ridgewood combined for eight wins in 2009 — the year before Fivay started its football program. This year, their only victory was Ridgewood’s 16-10 win over Hudson in Week 4.

Fivay’s opening is one reason for the other struggles in west Pasco. The Falcons’ leading rusher, Kyrie Rodriguez (Hudson), and leading tackler, Brice Sesler (Ridgewood), both transferred to Fivay this year.

Taylor said a new school and new facilities attract some players, but it also poses a challenge. How do you mold strangers from different programs and backgrounds into one team with good chemistry?

“It’s also them buying into the coaching staff and the school itself in general,” Taylor said, “being excited to be a part of Fivay High School and wanting to see their new school be successful.”

Sunlake’s rise has been more gradual. The Seahawks won only one game in 2008 before climbing to an 8-2 mark last fall.

“It was an uphill battle,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said.

Browning credited his assistant coaches for sticking with him as he built the program from scratch. That continuity helped the Seahawks boost their JV and weight-lifting programs, growing linemen who were 150 pounds in Year 1 into one of the county’s biggest teams.

“The first two or three years, people were shoving them around,” Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz said. “They’re not doing that now.”

It’s too early to tell if Sunlake will shove its cross-town rival, Land O’Lakes, out of the playoff picture this year or in the future. The Gators remain one of the county’s top teams, though they have already lost as many games this year (two) as they did all of last season.

Sunlake has nonetheless affected Land O’Lakes, even if its influence is less obvious than what’s happened to the west. The Seahawks landed only one veteran Gator when Sunlake opened, Browning said, but the new school siphoned away some of Land O’Lakes’ talent pipeline to underclassmen and middle schools.

Schmitz, who started programs at River Ridge and Mitchell, said that’s one of the lasting effects of a new school — and it’s one he’s seeing with the Mustangs since Anclote opened 10 miles away. The veteran players might stay put, but JV athletes and middle schoolers drift to the newer facilities, drying up the old program’s depth.

“The hurt comes with your JV program,” Schmitz said, “which eventually will affect your varsity program.

“You’re going to drop your talent pool. It’s not going to be the same as it was.”

Old school, new school
How some North Suncoast football teams fared in the five years before and after a new school opened nearby

Pasco
Before Wesley Chapel (1994-98): 8.4 wins per year
After Wesley Chapel (1999-2003): 5.6 wins per year

Hernando and Central
Before Nature Coast (1999-2003): 10.2 combined wins per year
After Nature Coast (2004-08): 8.2 combined wins per year

Wesley Chapel
Before Wiregrass Ranch (2002-06): 6.6 wins per year
After Wiregrass Ranch (2007-10): 3.8 wins per year

River Ridge
Before Mitchell (1995-1999): 6.2 wins per year
After Mitchell (2000-04): 3.0 wins per year

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