LAND O’LAKES — Connor Gilboy weaved through the defense with ease Tuesday night, during the middle game of three games in as many days.
The Sunlake senior dribbled left and right and launched a shot off the goalkeeper and, as usual, into the net. Another goal in another win in a record-breaking perfect season that has turned the Seahawks from a solid program into the North Suncoast’s top team.
“We have everything to lose at this point — undefeated season, rankings,” Gilboy said. “We’re under a lot of pressure, but we know that we can handle it if we keep a level head and do what we know we can do.”
And that, heading into next week’s Class 3A, District 7 tournament, is dominate.
Sunlake (25-0) earned one of the school’s first Sunshine Athletic Conference championships in any sport while breezing to the top seed in the district and prepping itself for a playoff run.
The statistics are gaudy: Sunlake has scored 136 goals while allowing only nine. Freshman goalkeeper Danny Hrenko has posted 17 shutouts. Six players have at least 20 points, and only two of the team’s top players are seniors.
“It’s been a really long time (coming),” Gilboy said. “We’ve always wanted to be the dominant figure in Pasco County. Now we finally all got together and decided we needed to step it up.”
None have done so more than Gilboy.
He was strong as a junior, racking up 27 goals and first-team all-North Suncoast honors, but his senior campaign has been historic. His 58 goals broke the Pasco County single-season record, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ archives. Justin Geisler set the old mark of 55 for Land O’Lakes in 2000.
In addition to racking up 22 assists this winter and passing the 100-goal milestone for his career, Gilboy has also picked up interest from coaches at Stanford and Wake Forest.
“I have to say that he might have a big reputation in the papers, but he backs it up well on the field,” sophomore forward Connor Spencer said. “Everything that’s said about him is true.”
Gilboy attracts the headlines, but he has plenty of help on a loaded Sunlake team. Spencer has tallied 31 goals and 32 assists, while sophomore Chris Wilkinson (25 assists) and junior Austin Goble (12 goals) rank among the county’s top offensive threats.
The Seahawks’ rise to a perfect regular season didn’t come out of nowhere. They topped eventual state finalist Land O’Lakes to earn the district championship and advanced to the Class 3A region semifinals.
But this year has been different.
“I feel like there’s maybe more passion on this team, more willing to drive,” Spencer said.
The turning points, players believe, came against crosstown rival and perennial power Land O’Lakes. The 3-2 win in November proved Sunlake could hang with the area’s top teams. A come-from-behind 2-1 victory last week reinforced the possibility of a perfect regular season and maybe more.
“After we beat Land O’Lakes — there’s really no one better in our conference than them,” Hrenko said.
Now, with the conference title and a flawless preamble behind them, the Seahawks have to set new, higher goals — another district title and an even longer postseason experience.
Others to watch
Land O’Lakes: Mark Pearson’s Gators lost a big chunk of a team that advanced to the state final last year, but Land O’Lakes has reloaded and could hang with Sunlake in the playoffs.
Mitchell: Nathaniel Hayes (11 goals) and Lewis Pepper (10 goals) lead a balanced Mustangs team that holds the top seed in Class 3A, District 8.
Springstead: Hernando County’s top team will need to get through a good Ocala Vanguard team to get back to the postseason and hope for another trip to the region semifinals.
Pasco: The Pirates suffered two one-goal losses to the Gators and are the best bet in Class 3A, District 7 to prevent the town of Land O’Lakes from monopolizing the district’s playoff spots.
Gulf: Michael O’Donnell (five shutouts) and Tyler Brown (18 goals, 14 assists) have the Buccaneers in line for a second consecutive playoff appearance.
Class 4A-8 at Gaither
Jan. 23: No. 5 Wiregrass Ranch vs. No. 4 Freedom, 6; No. 3 Gaither vs. No. 6 Chamberlain, 8
Jan. 25: No. 1 Sickles vs. Wiregrass-Freedom winner, 6; No. 2 Steinbrenner vs. Gaither-Chamberlain, 8
Jan. 26: Final, 7
Class 4A-4 at Ocala Forest
Tuesday: No. 3 Springstead vs. No. 6 West Port, 5; No. 4 Lecanto vs. No. 5 Gainesville, 7
Jan. 24: Springstead-West Port winner vs. No. 2 Ocala Vanguard, 5; Lecanto-Gainesville winner vs. No. 1 Forest, 7
Jan. 25: Final, 7
Class 3A-8 at Mitchell
Monday: No. 2 Gulf vs. No. 7 Ridgewood, 7
Tuesday: No. 4 Fivay vs. No. 5 Hudson, 5; No. 3 River Ridge vs. No. 6 Anclote, 7
Jan. 23: River Ridge-Anclote vs. Gulf-Ridgewood, 5; No. 1 Mitchell vs. Fivay-Hudson winner, 7*
Jan. 25: Final, 7
*Games may move to Jan. 24 if Mitchell girls have a region quarterfinal same night
Class 3A-7 at Pasco
Tuesday: No. 4 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 5 Zephyrhills, 6
Jan. 24: No. 1 Sunlake vs. Wesley Chapel-Zephyrhills winner, 6; No. 2 Land O’Lakes vs. No. 3 Pasco, 7:30
Jan. 25: Final, 7
Class 3A-6 at Nature Coast
Tuesday: No. 8 Hernando vs. No. 1 Citrus, 2:30; No. 4 Weeki Wachee vs. No. 5 Tavares, 4:30; No. 6 Eustis vs. No. 3 Nature Coast, 6:30; No. 7 Central vs. No. 2 Leesburg, 8:30
Jan. 25: Hernando-Citrus winner vs. Tavares-Weeki winner, 5:30; Eustis-NCT winner vs. Central-Leesburg, 7:30
Jan. 26: Final, 7
Tuesday: No. 8 Academy at the Lakes at No. 1 Tampa Prep, TBD; No. 5 Cambridge at No. 4 Carrollwood Day, TBD; No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 2 Calvary Christian, TBD; No. 6 Bishop McLaughlin at No. 3 Indian Rocks Christian, TBD
Jan. 24 at Tampa Prep: Seffner-Calvary winner vs. Bishop-IRC winner, 5; Cambridge-CDS winner vs. AATL-Tampa Prep winner, 7
Jan. 25 at Tampa Prep: Final, 7