Instead of presenting a dry, stat-stuffed primer on this weekend’s boys state soccer finals, we’re diverting from the beaten pitch. After all, four local teams — four — have a chance to win titles. That, of course, would be a bay area first, which calls for an equally unprecedented approach to previewing the quartet of contests. The following is our hodgepodge of state tourney set pieces.
All games at USF soccer stadium. Admission is $9 per session; parking is $5.
A, Fort Myers Evangelical vs. Tampa Prep, 5:05 p.m.
2A, Melbourne West Shore vs. Berkeley Prep, 7:35 p.m.
3A, Plantation American Heritage vs. Land O’Lakes, 11:05 a.m.
4A, Fleming Island vs. Seminole, 1:35 p.m.
Ranking the opponents
1. Fleming Island (vs. Seminole): The Golden Eagles (24-1), who manhandled a solid Gaither team in the state semis, are ranked 24th nationally by ESPN.
2. Plantation American Heritage (vs. Land O’Lakes): We’re high on any team that can shut out Jesuit. The Patriots (27-3-3) are accustomed to this stage; they’ve been to the state finals six times (winning four) since 2001.
3. Melbourne West Shore (vs. Berkeley Prep): The Wildcats (21-5), also a top-50 ESPN team, are well-coached and highly cerebral; they’ve been the state academic team champ for their classification three of the past four years.
4. Fort Myers Evangelical (vs. Tampa Prep): The Sentinels (21-2-1) have two 20-goal scorers and have rolled through the playoffs, but they’ve never been on this stage before.
On appearance alone, Tampa Prep enters as the sentimental state finals favorite among punk rockers everywhere. In accordance with their custom, the Terrapins converged on a South Tampa clip joint for mohawks after clinching a final four berth. “It’s a tradition,” senior captain Gustavo Pires said. “Every time we make it to states, we shave our heads.”
Wackiest tradition, honorable mention
If Seminole senior midfielder Garrett Bocon scores against Fleming Island in Saturday’s 4A final, he might just break into his “Bird” celebration, complete with flapping arms and bobbing head. “I might, we’ll see,” Bocon said. “Maybe if I score a second goal.” Coach Rick Masi begs to differ. “He’s not doing that,” said Masi, shaking his head.
Leaving nothing to chance
To prepare for the wider field at USF, Berkeley Prep trained Wednesday night at the University of Tampa. A typical high school field is 60 yards wide; at USF, the width of the pitch will increase to 80 yards.
Our kingdom to be a fly on the wall
Presumably, Seminole, a second-half team all season, has thrived off Masi’s fiery (and sometimes animated) halftime speeches. “He kicks and throws things a lot,” senior Dalton Schomp said. “One time he threw his walker across the room and broke it.” Masi, who has been dealing with back and hip problems this season, has used a walker on the sidelines at times. “They told you that?” Masi said. “Okay, I might have done that.”
Schomp is affectionately known by his teammates as “Snowflake,” but not because he likes cold weather or is extremely pale. Snowflake is a type of gorilla and, well, his teammates think he kind of resembles a Snowflake Gorilla. “I looked it up online and thought that’s what he looked like,” fellow senior Yann Cerf said. (Look it up, it’s not a flattering nickname.)
Best nickname, honorable mention
We’ll go with Tampa Prep senior Jordan “Purp” Hayes. (“Purp” is short for “Purple”)
Did you know?
• Several Seminole players have been together since youth soccer. Dalton Schomp, Gerard Corning, Daniel Welland and Tyler Zulewski all play at Gulf Coast United. Eric Sines, Liam Murphy, Jacob Kiag, David Watts and Dean Favetta all played at SYAA.
• Land O’Lakes has allowed more than two goals only twice all year — in an early 4-1 loss to Berkeley Prep and 3-2 defeat to Sunlake in the district title game
• Four of Berkeley Prep’s five defenders — senior GK Lee Newhaller and classmates Mark Biddinger, Jarod Brazel and Vince Hess — are three-year starters
• Four countries (including the United States) are represented on Tampa Prep’s roster. MF Rodrigo Diaz was born in Venezuela, D Oscar Skjaerpe is Norwegian, and siblings Gustavo and Gui Pires are from Brazil.
By the numbers
1 Goal Land O’Lakes has allowed in four playoff contests
16 Goals the Gators have scored in that same span
33 Goals by Land O’Lakes senior Josh Davis, most of any local player entering the finals
5 State titles Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep will have collected if they win Friday, tying them for fourth all time in the state with Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas
37 Miles from Seminole High to USF, which represents the longest commute of any of the four area state finals qualifiers
Compiled by staff writers Matt Baker, Laura Keeley, Joey Knight and Rodney Page.