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Cotey: Palm Harbor University saves the day for bay area soccer teams

As his players lined up to receive gold medals, Palm Harbor University girls soccer coach John Planamenta dashed toward the stands, took his son from his wife, and the two of them ran back to his place at the end of the line.

For Planamenta, it was his third state championship medal.

For 8-month-old Colton, it was his first.

That makes Saturday's victory in the Class 6A championship game the most memorable of Planamenta's career, as he joined Clearwater Central Catholic's Randy Buckstein as the only area soccer coach to win three state titles.

For a team that enters every season with weighty expectations, the Hurricanes exceeded them this time.

PHU didn't lose a game.

It allowed four goals all season. Since Dec. 18, it allowed just one goal. In the semifinals, it didn't even allow a shot.

"We have a chance to be good every year," Planamenta said. "But no way I thought all this would happen."

The defense — led by Zoe Lombard, who had to move back to sweeper — was brilliant.

Catherine Brinkman had another magnificent season in her mighty right leg.

Young players such as Paige Lombard and Anja Decker excelled in starting roles.

And a freshman, Kelly Phipps, bent one like Beckham, if Beckham had a strong icy wind to help him, and the Hurricanes saved the state soccer tournament for Tampa Bay with a 1-0 overtime win and their second straight championship.

As night fell Saturday on the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium, so had the hopes of a banner season for bay area girls soccer.

It will still be remembered as one of the best ever — four of the five state titles were contested by a Tampa Bay school — but anguish had been the prevailing emotion.

A forward missing a wide-open net.

A keeper crumpled on the ground, her head buried between her knees.

A senior — lots and lots of red-eyed seniors — wearing silver medals.

All frozen in second place.

"I was talking with D (assistant coach Darryl Southard) about how great it was that we had four teams in here," Planamenta said. "Then Tampa Prep lost, and I was like, well, we still have three. Then Berkeley lost. And we watched Seminole, and that was heartbreaking.

"I looked around and thought … it can't be."

The Hurricane players noticed, too. It emboldened them. It came down to them, the last day, the last game.

"All those games were close, came down to penalty kicks, or were in overtime," Zoe Lombard said. "We were like, 'This is not happening to us.' "

And yet, almost.

A dull first half with no flow was followed by a second half in which Boca Raton nearly scored the winner before Nikki Brewer gobbled up the danger, followed by overtime, where one goal was going to end it.

Phipps didn't really have much of a shot when she teed it up from 25 yards.

Brinkman, the consummate finisher, was a few yards away, but the freshman saw a sliver of an opening.

"I figured I'd take a chance," Phipps said.

She aimed for the far post, and the wind made the ball bend and dance and somehow sneak past the Boca Raton keeper.

It looked like it went right under her arm.

"It was a beautiful shot," Planamenta said.

Almost as beautiful as the gold medal he then took in his hands.

The medal around Colton Planamenta's neck.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com

Cotey: Palm Harbor University saves the day for bay area soccer teams 02/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 9:43pm]
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