NEW PORT RICHEY — Sometime before Mitchell's opening-round district tournament game against Hudson on Tuesday, senior captain Brendan Ross will show his teammates the silver ring holding the black stone emblazoned with the Mustangs' school logo he won as a member of the 2010 state championship team.
He will tell his Mustangs teammates that the ring is what they're playing for, and he will encourage them to go for one of their own.
And his teammates will listen, because Ross has been there before.
And they haven't.
Ross is the lone returning starter from last year's Mitchell team that was the first from the North Suncoast to capture a state title in boys soccer.
The Mustangs graduated 17 seniors, leaving behind a talented but unproven player pool, and it showed in an uneven regular season in which the Mustangs (10-12-1) finished with a sub-.500 record.
"We still have those targets on our back because we did win states last year," Ross said. "It comes with the reputation. People want to embarrass you."
Head coach Oscar Ubillus has never had a team as young and inexperienced in his five seasons coaching Mitchell. The Mustangs start three freshmen, sometimes four, which Ubillus hasn't had to do since his first season at the school.
"There's always been a changeover, but not the mass exodus we had," Ubillus said. "Now, it's just kind of starting from scratch. The beginning of the season, it showed a lot, but we've gotten a lot better."
Mitchell hardly looked like a defending state champion after tying Fivay in the first week of the season and following that up with an embarrassing 8-1 shellacking at the hands of Pasco.
"We had a rocky start," Ross admitted.
Slowly, however, the Mustangs have started coming together. They've put together stretches of good play in losses to Class 2A defending state champion Tampa Prep and against Palm Harbor University, the Class 6A runnerup last season.
And although the Mustangs enter this week's district tournament on a four-game losing streak and have only won once in the last nine games, they have held their own against a back-loaded schedule featuring some of the area's best teams.
"We'll put together a good half here or a half there," Ubillus said. "The second half against Palm Harbor was fantastic, we just couldn't score the ball. … It's frustrating at times; some guys are just missing touches, missing shots that in the last couple years were a given. I catch myself repeating stuff, reteaching things I haven't said for years."
As the No. 3 seed in the Class 4A, District 7 tournament, Mitchell will have to pull off at least one upset to advance to region for the third year in a row. Should they need any inspiration, the Mustangs will only have to look to Ross.
"I'll be wearing my ring all next week," he said.
5A-7 at Springstead
Tuesday: West Port (2) vs. Springstead (3), 6 p.m.; Central (1) vs. Ocala Forest (4), 8; Friday: final, 7
The scoop: Ocala Forest is the defending champion, but Central is the favorite after navigating the regular-season district schedule without a loss. The Bears are looking for a second straight trip to region.
4A-8 at River Ridge
Monday: Hernando (8) vs. Zephyrhills (9), 7; Tuesday: River Ridge (2) vs. Nature Coast (7), 2; Sunlake (3) vs. Citrus (6), 4; Wiregrass Ranch (4) vs. Lecanto (5), 6; Land O'Lakes (1) vs. Hernando/Zephyrhills winner, 8; Wednesday: River Ridge/Nature Coast winner vs. Sunlake/Citrus winner, 6; Hernando-Zephyrhills/Land O'Lakes winner vs. Wiregrass Ranch/Lecanto winner, 8; Friday: final, 7.
The scoop: Land O'Lakes, the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion after a one-goal victory over Pasco on Wednesday, is seeking its eighth straight appearance at region. The Gators believed they were on the cusp of a state title a year ago (lost in region semifinals), but they are even better this season.
4A-7 at Pasco
Monday: Wesley Chapel (2) vs. Gulf (7), 5; Pasco (1) vs. Anclote (8), 7; Tuesday: Mitchell (3) vs. Hudson (6), 5; Fivay (4) vs. Ridgewood (5), 7; Wednesday: Wesley Chapel/Gulf winner vs. Mitchell/Hudson winner, 5; Pasco/Anclote winner vs. Fivay/Ridgewood winner, 7; Friday: final, 7
The scoop: Pasco was upset by Wesley Chapel in a district semifinal a year ago, but don't expect a similar result this season. The Pirates are the overwhelming pick here and are a legitimate state title contender.
Monday: Carrollwood Day (6) at Indian Rocks Christian (3), 6; Hernando Christian (7) at Bishop McLaughlin (2), 6; Calvary Christian (5) at Academy at the Lakes (4), 6; Tuesday: Carrollwood Day/IRC winner vs. Hernando Christian/Bishop McLaughlin winner, at Tampa Prep, 5; Calvary Christian/AATL winner at Tampa Prep (1), 7; Friday: final, at Tampa Prep, 7
The scoop: Defending champion Tampa Prep allowed only one goal in district play all season. It was scored by Bishop McLaughlin, which is a good bet to make it to the district final and advance to region after missing out last season.
Boys soccer stats
Player, school G A Pts.
Jordan Landry, Sunlake 39 16 94
Eric Garcia, Pasco 24 12 60
Miguel Laliberte, Land O'Lakes 24 11 59
Jonathan Thompson, River Ridge 22 10 54
Andrew Garcia, Land O'Lakes 19 13 51
Joe Gulau, Bishop McLaughlin 18 11 47
Caelin Campbell, Bishop McLaughlin 19 7 45
Alex Burnham, Academy at the Lakes 18 7 43
Josh Davis, Land O'Lakes 16 7 39
Connor Gilboy, Sunlake 9 21 39
Travis Lord, Ridgewood 15 7 37
Jose Flores, Pasco 13 9 35
Nathan Dalton, Land O'Lakes 12 10 34
Christian Monahan, Wesley Chapel 14 5 33
Max Caceres, Wesley Chapel 13 7 33
Jake Frahm, Land O'Lakes 8 17 33
Minimum nine games
Player, school GAA S SO
Kody Parker, Land O'Lakes 0.4 85 14
Angel Garcia, Pasco 0.56 43 8
David Dahany, Sunlake 0.68 n/a 12
Anthony Kaspars, Central 0.75 61 2
Danny Meigel, Bishop McLaughlin 0.85 n/a 1
Ian Sourk, Wiregrass Ranch 1.25 98 7
Jerod Linville, River Ridge 1.28 60 5
Alex McGough, Wesley Chapel 1.5 n/a 4