We momentarily interrupt our regular football coverage for some futbol coverage. As if on tip-toe, soccer season has snuck upon us from behind and free-kicked us to full attention. With eyes wide open, we've discovered most of east Hillsborough is rebuilding, the private-school stalwarts are replenishing and the noise some programs are making in the county's northwest corner is resounding. On the eve of the regular season's commencement, we take a crack at projecting the top sides, strikers, sweepers and story lines of the 2011-12 season.
Preseason top five
Venerable coach Bob Bauman calls it a rebuilding year, which we're not buying for a second. Sure, the Tigers graduated 15 seniors, but prolific forward Brett Durrance is back and the youngsters around him are astounding.
2. Tampa Prep
The talent is in place for the Terrapins to make a run at their fifth state title in eight seasons. Coach Doug Smith welcomed at least two impact transfers who should fortify a returning nucleus led by sleek forward Jordan Hayes.
The Warriors would rank even higher were it not for standout forward Oli Ortiz's recent move to Texas. Nonetheless, coach Chad Ebright's club possesses the skill and depth to beat out Sickles and Gaither for the title in the newly aligned Class 4A, District 8.
The Gryphons had only four seniors on last season's team, which stunned Gaither 3-1 in the district final. The most talented returner is senior forward Carlos Rodriguez, who should emerge as one of the county's best players.
Despite the loss of scorer Tevin Gage, the Bulls may be better than last year's 15-win team. The entire defense is back, led by keeper Austin Spagnola, and the front has balanced scoring.
Scorers to watch ...
Jacob Brumbeloe, Sr., Durant. Top scorer (19 goals) for Class 5A state runnerup
Felipe DeSousa, Sr., Wharton: Scored 15 goals in only 13 games last season
Brett Durrance, Sr., Jesuit. NSCAA all-South selection had 31 goals as a junior
Matt Firestine, Sr., Bloomingdale. 12-goal scorer may have strongest leg in county
Conner Fleming, Sr., Steinbrenner. 16 goals as junior; dazzled in Olympic Development Program action during offseason
Jordan Hayes, Sr., Tampa Prep. Big-time college prospect scored 18 goals last winter
Carlos Rodriguez, Sr., Sickles. Nearly half his 14 goals last year came against high-caliber sides
But defense wins titles, so keep an eye on ...
Chris Conlon, Sr., Jesuit. Could shine at sweeper after scoring nine goals last year
Keenan Kushner, Jr., Wharton. 'Cats keeper tallied 12 saves in district final triumph
Macsen Pritchard, Jr., Tampa Prep. Terps' point guard from right-back spot
Jacob Snidle, Sr., Gaither. Rebounded from two knee surgeries to become team's field general
Austin Spagnola, Sr., Bloomingdale. Six-foot-3 keeper boasted 1.12 goals-against average as a junior
By the numbers
1 Goals that Tampa Prep sophomore Michael Spezza, a move-in from Naples, scored in a scrimmage against the under-17 national team
4 Sets of brothers on Steinbrenner's team
6 Victories needed by Cambridge coach Kevin Hickinbotham to reach 250 for his career
5A-7: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Durant, Newsome, Plant, Riverview, Wharton
4A-8: Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Steinbrenner, Sickles, Wiregrass Ranch
4A-9: Armwood, Brandon, East Bay, Hillsborough, Plant City, Strawberry Crest, TBT
3A-9: Blake, Jefferson, Jesuit, King, Lennard, Leto, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto
2A-9: Berkeley Prep, Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic, Tampa Catholic
1A-7: Academy at the Lakes, Bishop McLaughlin, Calvary Christian, Cambridge, Carrollwood Day, Citrus Park, Indian Rocks Christian, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep