North Suncoast: Boys district soccer preview

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Sat. January 21, 2012 | Bryan Burns

North Suncoast: Boys district soccer preview

LAND O’LAKES — The Land O’Lakes name has been a near-permanent fixture on the boys soccer postseason landscape since, well, the turn of the millennium.

For eight straight seasons, or since 2003, Land O’Lakes has handled the pressure of the knockout stage by advancing out of the district tournament and into regionals, the last seven in a row as the district champion.

Yet, in those eight tries, Land O’Lakes has been unsuccessful in its bid to reach the state final four. The Gators placed second in Class 5A in 1999 and were a state semifinalist in 2000 but have been shut out since.

Two years ago, the Gators nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit before falling to eventual state champion Mitchell in the region semifinals. With a strong nucleus returning the next season, the Gators were a preseason pick to end their state drought but were eliminated by Pasco 1-0 in the first round.

“That,” current Gators senior sweeper Jake Frahm said, “was a disastrous game.”

Land O’Lakes, once again, appears poised to keep its playoff appearance and district title streak intact in 2012, starting with this week’s district tournament (the Gators host the 3A-7 tournament beginning Tuesday).

The Gators (17-2-2) earned the tournament’s top seed by rolling through the regular-season district schedule undefeated, the only blemish a 1-1 tie against Sunlake, which the Gators avenged with a methodical 5-1 victory four weeks later. And the Gators proved they can play with some of the Tampa Bay area’s best by winning four straight and the consolation bracket championship at the

Berkeley Prep Invitational after an opening-round, one-goal loss to 4A-9 top seed Plant City.

So how will this Gators squad find region success where the past eight have not? Peaking at the right time, like now, would be a good start.

“Since Christmas break, we’ve been a little extra focused and more, I don’t know if motivated is the right word, but we definitely seem sharper,” said 15-year Gators coach Mark Pearson.

Land O’Lakes is 5-0 after the annual midseason hiatus, outscoring opponents a combined 31-1.

“This year, the biggest difference from previous years — and we’ve had some good teams — we seem to be clicking and really going in the right direction now where in years past it was earlier on in the season,” Pearson said. “We kind of got in our groove too soon and then kind of unraveled a little bit as we got toward the end.”

The Gators have been using their speed — athletic speed and speed of play — to blow past opponents, especially of late. The team’s fastest player, senior forward Josh Davis, leads the team with 23 goals and has 13 assists. Fellow seniors Andy Garcia (20 goals), a

Florida Gulf Coast commit, and Miguel Laliberte (16 goals, 11 assists) combine with Davis up top to form the area’s most formidable attack.

Frahm, who will play at North Florida next season, anchors a Gators’ defense that has allowed only 17 goals with first-year goalkeeper Mitchell McCuen between the posts.

The team is well rested, earning a week off of training prior to the stretch run to account for club soccer showcases.

“They seem to be a bit more rejuvenated,” Pearson said.

And the sting of so many near misses will undoubtedly be a motivating factor, should the Gators advance to regionals as expected.

“There’s plenty to prove,” Pearson said. “We hope, I think they hope, that they can go much farther than last year,” Pearson said.

District soccer schedules
Class 4A-8 at Steinbrenner
Tuesday: No. 4 Wiregrass Ranch vs. No. 5 Chamberlain, 6; No. 3 Sickles vs. No. 6 Steinbrenner, 8
Wednesday: No. 2 Gaither vs. Sickles/Steinbrenner winner, 6; No. 1 Freedom vs. Wiregrass/Chamberlain winner, 8
Friday: Final, 7

Class 4A-4 at Ocala Vanguard
Tuesday: No. 3 Lecanto vs. No. 6 Gainesville, 5; No. 4 Vanguard vs. No. 5 Ocala Forest, 7
Wednesday: No. 2 West Port vs. Lecanto/Gainesville winner, 5; No. 1 Springstead vs. Vanguard/Forest winner, 7
Friday: Final, 7

Class 3A-8 at Mitchell
Monday: No. 4 River Ridge vs. No. 5 Hudson, 4; No. 2 Gulf vs. No. 7 Anclote, 6; No. 3 Mitchell vs. No. 6 Ridgewood, 8
Wednesday: Mitchell/Ridgewood winner vs. Gulf/Anclote, 5; No. 1 Fivay vs. River Ridge/Hudson winner, 7
Friday: Final, 7

Class 3A-7 at Land O’Lakes
Tuesday: No. 4 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 5 Zephyrhills, 5
Wednesday: No. 2 Pasco vs. No. 3 Sunlake, 6; No. 1 Land O’Lakes vs. Wesley Chapel/Zephyrhills winner, 7:45
Friday: Final, 7

Class 3A-6 at various sites
Tuesday: No. 8 Weeki Wachee at No. 1 Citrus, 7; No. 5 Central at No. 4 Tavares, 7; No. 6 Hernando at No. 3 Nature Coast, 7; No. 7 Eustis at No. 2 Leesburg, 7
Thursday at Leesburg: Weeki Wachee/Citrus winner vs. Central/Tavares winner, 5:30; Hernando/Nature Coast winner vs. Eustis/Leesburg winner, 7:30
Friday: Final, 7

Class A-7 at various sites
Monday: No. 9 Citrus Park Christian at No. 8 Academy at the Lakes
Tuesday: Citrus Park/AATL winner at No. 1 Tampa Prep, 7; No. 5 Seffner Christian at No. 4 Bishop McLaughlin, 7; No. 6 Calvary Christian at No. 3 Cambridge, 7; No. 7 Carrollwood Day at No. 2 Indian Rocks Christian, 7
Wednesday at Indian Rocks: Cambridge/Calvary winner vs. CDS/IRC winner, 5; Tampa Prep/TBD winner vs. Seffner/Bishop winner, 7
Friday at Indian Rocks: Final, 7

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