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Girls soccer season preview

To this point, the transformation orchestrated by third-year Hudson coach Chris Rizzieri has nearly mirrored the one pulled off by Hudson football coach Mark Nash earlier this decade.

The script: Inherit a program ranging from mediocre to moribund, build around a nucleus that has played together for many years, teach perseverance and fortitude and watch that team will its way into the playoffs.

So far, it has been executed almost seamlessly by Rizzieri, an upstate New York native who started the Florida Southern College program a decade ago. Like Nash, she led her inaugural Hudson team to a breakthrough year (school-record 17 wins) and her second — the 2007-08 squad that finished 20-4-2 — to a district title.

"We had some good players on the field. They were very young," Rizzieri said. "We had to put them in the right spots. We had to help them believe they could be better, and we had to win a few games to solidify that belief."

Now is where the Cobras might veer from script.

Unlike Nash, whose rookie-infused team won twice in his third year, Rizzieri's group appears poised for a repeat.

Hudson, the area's feel-good story of 2008, could be better in 2009.

"Our basic thing is that our kids are still playing with a goal in mind. They've done it once, and I think they know it's achievable," Rizzieri said. "They know they can do it again."

The Cobras return — among others — their top scorer (senior forward Lindsay Zullo), defender (junior Stacy Swezey), goalkeeper (junior Jessie Imbimbo) and midfielder (junior Alicia Schuering). Mitchell coach Karl Kukec calls Zullo and Schuering, who teamed for 48 goals last season, "players that teams can build around."

Behind this group, Hudson defeated traditional local Class 5A power Land O'Lakes, lost one district game all season and edged Springstead on penalty kicks in the 4A, District 8 tournament final to avenge a loss in the previous year's final.

"We were the bridesmaid and not the bride for two years, so it's been coming," said Rizzieri, whose team fell to Eustis in the first round of the playoffs despite taking more shots.

"We got older. We matured. We became better players in total."

District supremacy is one thing. Whether the Cobras can contend for a Sunshine Athletic Conference title is another. Mitchell might have one of its best teams ever, and River Ridge — despite the loss of all-time scoring leader Deana Rossi — topped Hudson in a preseason game.

Then again, breakthrough seasons have become the norm for Hudson football.

And Hudson futbol.

"We don't think we're out of those games until we've played them," Rizzieri said.

Top five teams

1. Mitchell: Has no holes in the lineup a season after reaching the 6A region final.

2. River Ridge: Lost top scorer and goalkeeper but still very talented.

3. Hudson: All of the tools are in place for another 20-win season.

4. Land O'Lakes: The Gators are young, talented and battle-tested.

5. Springstead: Hernando County's best team lost a lot but reloaded nicely.

Newcomer alert

Pasco hired Warren Lowery as coach, replacing Wardell Powell. Lowery was a boys varsity assistant under Barry Grayling, who helped guide the Pirates to, arguably, some of the best seasons in school history, including a 2006 trip to the state semifinals.

Top five scorers
Mikaela Morolla, Jr., River Ridge25 goals last year — as No. 2 scoring option
Marisa Russo, Jr., MitchellHad a hat trick against Land O'Lakes
Lindsay Zullo, Sr., Hudson25-goal scorer last year will play up front and in middle
Brandi Mira, Sr. ZephyrhillsHad team-best 26 goals and nine assists
Taylor Agricola, Sr., Nature CoastHad 19 goals and three assists last season
Top five defenders
Stacy Swezey, Jr., HudsonCobras field general is unheralded
Dani Schulman, So., GulfExcellent ball skills and speed
Brittany Nieves, So., Land O'LakesRegistered a goal and an assist
Natalie Fontanes, So., Land O'LakesKey part of Gators' youth movement
Katie Duke, So., SpringsteadAnchor of defensive-minded team
Top five goalkeepers
Laura Seletos, Sr., Mitchell13 shutouts as a junior
Jessie Imbimbo, Jr., Hudson17 shutouts as a sophomore
Tara Marshall, So., Land O'LakesFinished with 148 saves and nine shutouts
Jessica Olin, Sr., River RidgeProjects as a solid replacement for Brittany Hahn
Sarah Berberian, Sr., Nature Coast10 shutouts and 166 saves, including season-high 22 against Springstead
Top five ballhandlers
Shelby Holley, Sr., River RidgeSetup player for Knights' awesome forwards
Shelby Wright, Jr., MitchellHeady playmaker had 22 assists last season
Alicia Schuering, Jr., HudsonComing off a 23-goal season
Laurren McLeod, Sr., ZephyrhillsOne of the area's best at controlling the pace
Ashley Custodio, Sr., CentralSecond-team All-North Suncoast pick last year
Top five scorers
Mikaela Morolla, Jr., River Ridge25 goals last year — as No. 2 scoring option
Marisa Russo, Jr., MitchellHad a hat trick against Land O'Lakes
Lindsay Zullo, Sr., Hudson25-goal scorer last year will play up front and in middle
Brandi Mira, Sr. ZephyrhillsHad team-best 26 goals and nine assists
Taylor Agricola, Sr., Nature CoastHad 19 goals and three assists last season
Top five defenders
Stacy Swezey, Jr., HudsonCobras field general is unheralded
Dani Schulman, So., GulfExcellent ball skills and speed
Brittany Nieves, So., Land O'LakesRegistered a goal and an assist
Natalie Fontanes, So., Land O'LakesKey part of Gators' youth movement
Katie Duke, So., SpringsteadAnchor of defensive-minded team
Top five goalkeepers
Laura Seletos, Sr., Mitchell13 shutouts as a junior
Jessie Imbimbo, Jr., Hudson17 shutouts as a sophomore
Tara Marshall, So., Land O'LakesFinished with 148 saves and nine shutouts
Jessica Olin, Sr., River RidgeProjects as a solid replacement for Brittany Hahn
Sarah Berberian, Sr., Nature Coast10 shutouts and 166 saves, including season-high 22 against Springstead
Top five ballhandlers
Shelby Holley, Sr., River RidgeSetup player for Knights' awesome forwards
Shelby Wright, Jr., MitchellHeady playmaker had 22 assists last season
Alicia Schuering, Jr., HudsonComing off a 23-goal season
Laurren McLeod, Sr., ZephyrhillsOne of the area's best at controlling the pace
Ashley Custodio, Sr., CentralSecond-team All-North Suncoast pick last year

Girls soccer season preview 11/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 11:04am]

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