The number of quality soccer teams littering the county landscape has us salivating at the possible district tournament matchups. Take a look at what's in store this week:
The defending champions
Palm Harbor University limped into the playoffs last season, losing twice and tying twice in the six games before the district tournament. Then, the Hurricanes won seven straight in the postseason to capture the school's third state title.
This season, PHU again finds itself limping but for different reasons. Seven key players were injured and on the bench during the Hurricane Watch tournament 12 days ago.
The team's health has improved somewhat heading into the district tournament.
"We're still a little banged up, but we're mostly healthy," coach Alex Delgado said. "We should be ready to go by Wednesday."
Delgado said sophomore L.J. Kim will be available. Kim hasn't played since a tie against East Lake in the season's opening week. Also suiting up is senior Jeremy Paul, who recently separated his shoulder but will tough it out in his final go-round with the Hurricanes.
Here comes the Hammer
Assuming Countryside can get by its semifinal opponent, the Cougars will get a big lift with the addition of Nikolai Hammer to the lineup. Hammer was suspended for six weeks after a red card ejection in a loss at East Lake, but he is eligible to play should the Cougars make the district final.
Hammer can play in midfield, combining with leading scorer Jagger Martinez and Andrew Hitt to provide Countryside with one of the top midfields anywhere. Or he can move up top and form a potent duo with Derya Ekren. Either way, his presence could spark the Cougars.
"If we can get through that first district game," coach David Sica said. "Anything can happen. That's always a key for us."
Redemption for IRC?
Last season was particularly frustrating for Indian Rocks Christian. After a woeful start, the Golden Eagles were seeded last for the district tournament and matched with Class 2A power Tampa Prep in the opening round. IRC, though, after getting electrifying goal scorer Jonny Sitton back, entered that meeting with the Terrapins unbeaten in its last eight games and nearly pulled the upset, holding a 1-0 lead at halftime before falling 2-1.
IRC is a much more consistent side this season, and another showdown with Tampa Prep is likely, this time in the district final. Keep in mind the Terrapins own a 3-1 regular-season win over IRC.
District tournament schedules
Tuesday: North Port (5) at Sara sota Riverview (4), 7; St. Petersburg (6) at Sarasota (3), 7; Wednesday: North Port/Riverview winner at Palm Harbor University (1), 7; St. Petersburg/Sarasota winner at Countryside (2), 7; Friday: Final, 7 (highest seed hosts)
5A-12 at Pinellas Park
Tuesday: Gibbs (4) vs. Boca Ciega (5), 7; Wednesday: Pinellas Park (1) vs. Gibbs/Boca Ciega winner, 6:30; Northeast (2) vs. Largo (3), 8:30; Friday: Final, 7
5A-11 at Clearwater
Monday: Clearwater (4) vs. Tarpon Springs (5), 6:30; Wednesday: Seminole (2) vs. Dunedin (3), 6; East Lake (1) vs. Clearwater/Dunedin winner, 8; Friday: Final, 7
Tuesday: Dixie Hollins (5) at Braden River (4), 7; Osceola (6) at Lakewood (3), 7; Bayshore (7) at Lakewood Ranch (2), 7; Wednesday: Dixie Hollins/Braden River winner at Palmetto (1), 7; Osceola/Lakewood winner vs. Bayshore/Lakewood Ranch winner, 7 (highest seed hosts); Friday: Final, 7 (highest seeded Pinellas team hosts unless two Manatee teams are in the final, in which case highest seeded Manatee team hosts)
3A-10 at St. Petersburg Catholic
Wednesday: Tampa Catholic (2) vs. Clearwater Central Catholic (3), 6; Berkeley Prep (1) vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (4), 8; Friday: Final, 7
2A-10 at Shorecrest
Monday: Admiral Farragut (4) vs. Northside Christian (5), 5; St. Stephen's (1) vs. Keswick Christian (8), 7; Tuesday: Shorecrest (3) vs. Cambridge (6), 5; Out-of-Door (2) vs. Bradenton Christian (7), 7; Wednesday: Out-of-Door/Bradenton Christian winner vs. Shorecrest/Cambridge winner, 5; St. Stephen's/Keswick winner vs. Admiral Farragut/Northside winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7
2A-9 at Bishop McLaughlin
Monday: Bishop McLaughlin (3) vs. Academy at the Lakes (6), 3:30; Calvary Christian (4) vs. Hernando Christian (5), 5:30; Indian Rocks Christian (2) vs. Carrollwood Day (7), 7:30; Tuesday: Bishop McLaughlin/AATL winner vs. IRC/Carrollwood Day winner, 5; Calvary/Hernando Chr. winner vs. Tampa Prep (1), 7; Friday: Final, 7