TAMPA — To hype tonight's big game, the halls at Sickles have been adorned with spirit banners. Music has been played during lunch to get students psyched. The match is being promoted over the PA system during morning announcements.
The Gryphons, it appears, are ready for some futbol.
"My school is actually treating this like a football game," boys soccer coach Tony Calvo said.
The Gryphons' Class 5A playoff showdown against nearby nemesis Gaither is rivalry, rematch and region semifinal rolled into one.
So are some other local semifinals. From Plant City-Newsome to Clearwater Central Catholic-Berkeley Prep, rivals are clashing again, with the stakes as high as the intensity this time around.
But few are likely to match the atmosphere expected at Sickles, where temperatures in the low 50s won't detract a few students from arriving with bare chests slathered in body paint.
Sickles (22-1-3) needed an overtime session of penalty kicks to edge Gaither 3-2 in the District 9 final two weeks ago. That was three weeks after the Gryphons eked out a 2-1 regular-season win.
What's more, a bunch of kids from both teams, about 25 in all, according to Gaither coach Eric Sims, compete in the nearby HC United club program.
"I think they're definitely excited about the game," Sims said of his players.
"To beat Sickles two times would be very difficult, almost impossible, I think. I think us losing in the district final, maybe we can beat them the one time. They're the best team around."
Tonight's region semifinals
All matches at 7
Class 2A: Indian Rocks Christian (16-7) at Tampa Prep (15-4-2)
Winner faces: Fort Myers Evangelical-Vero Beach St. Edward's winner in Friday's region final
Previous meetings: Tampa Prep defeated the Eagles 3-1 on Dec. 8 and 2-0 in the District 9 final Jan. 29
Class 3A: Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep (12-8-3)
Winner faces: Arcadia DeSoto-Fort Myers Bishop Verot winner in Friday's region final
Previous meetings: Berkeley defeated CCC 5-1 on Nov. 11 and 2-0 in the District 10 final Jan. 29
Class 4A: Palmetto (18-2-2) at Jesuit (18-4-3)
Winner faces: Fort Myers-Naples winner in Friday's region final
Previous meeting: None
Class 5A: Gaither (16-4-1) at Sickles (22-1-3)
Winner faces: East Lake-Seminole winner in Friday's region final
Previous meetings: Sickles defeated Gaither 2-1 on Jan. 5 and won the overtime rematch 3-2 (4-1 PKs) in the District 9 final Jan. 29
Class 5A: Plant City (14-2-2) at Newsome (16-4-3)
Winner faces: Auburndale-Davenport Ridge Community winner in Friday's region final
Previous meetings: Teams tied 3-3 on Dec. 17; Newsome defeated Plant City 2-1 in the District 8 final Jan. 29
Class 6A: Plant (11-7-1) at Palm Harbor University (18-5-3)
Winner faces: Orlando Olympia-Winter Garden West Orange winner in Friday's region final
Previous meeting: None