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North Suncoast boys soccer season preview

The early exit of Land O'Lakes was as stunning as Hudson's upset of Pasco for a district title. Overall, last season had remarkable moments such as when former Pirates star Jose Montelongo became the North Suncoast's all-time leading scorer with 143 goals and when the Gators earned a top-five national ranking. But the season proved rather disappointing considering no team advanced past the second round of the playoffs. As we look ahead we bring you our four questions and thoughts to ponder entering the 2008-09 boys soccer season.

1. Can Land O'Lakes advance in the playoffs?

The Gators won the prestigious Soccer Field Invitational tournament and earned a national ranking last season, and expectations went through the roof. Then Land O'Lakes fell 1-0 to Freedom in the first round of the playoffs on home turf and reality set in: soccer games can be won or lost in mere seconds. The Gators lost three players from a team that went 25-2-1, including Elliot Leniton (60 points), but return star midfielder Dominic Cutrofello (83 points) and goalkeeper Alex Spock (16 shutouts). So the Gators should be in great shape for a playoff run.

2. Was Hudson a one-year wonder?

The Cobras' stunning upset of Pasco for the Class 4A, District 8 title was rewarded with a first-round playoff game against mighty Orlando Bishop Moore. The Cobras lost 7-1 but entered the offseason knowing they would return 16 players that had started including stud scorer Scotty Combs (39 goals). Curious about depth? Hudson's starting keeper last season, sophomore Zack Tonello, had at least 10 shutouts. The Cobras start this season with senior Todd Rushing, the projected starter before he was ruled ineligible. So look for Hudson to be legitimate title defenders.

3. Can anyone replace Pasco star Jose Montelongo?

The Pirates had the most success of any North Suncoast team last season if you consider the playoffs as a barometer. Pasco finished 20-6-2, reaching the 4A region semifinal where it was ousted 4-1 by Bishop Moore. Much of that success came from former striker Jose Montelongo, the North Suncoast's all-time leading scorer with 143 goals and owner of the single-season mark with 48. The Pirates have lost several key players the past two seasons, and in preseason have suffered a couple of shutouts.

4. Which surprise North Suncoast team will we talk about in January?

River Ridge. No less an authority than Hudson coach Paul Vescio insists River Ridge, loaded with seniors, is capable of defeating Land O'Lakes on any given night.

5. Final thoughts…

Mitchell took a one-year hiatus from being mentioned in the same breath with the top dogs and continue to have holes to fill with departure of Brad Chapman (47 points) and Ali Fawaz (25 points). … Ridgewood finished the second half 6-3-2 after a 1-5 start. … Springstead returns a young but experienced group after losing a first-round district tournament game for the first time in 10 seasons. … Bishop McLaughlin will use a stout defense to make a run at its third consecutive playoff berth, but will have to make do without alumnus Matt Gronau (49 points).

Top five scorers
MF Dominic Cutrofello, Sr., Land O'Lakes The Gators' top scorer with 32 goals and 19 assists
F Jordan Landry, So., Sunlake 17 goals, eight assists as a freshman
F Scotty Combs, Sr., Hudson 39 goals in a breakthrough season
F Mike Piemonte, Sr., Ridgewood His 18 goals included a hat trick against Mitchell
F Frank Villar, Jr., Land O'Lakes Will make a transition to the front line
Top five goalkeepers
Alex Spock, Sr., Land O'Lakes Logged 17 shutouts with a 0.43 GAA
Todd Rushing, Sr., Hudson Ineligible last season, enters 2008 with chip on shoulder
Diego Pestana, Sr., Bishop McLaughlin Will also be utilized as a forward at times
Robbie Wallace, Jr., Mitchell. Should be a big help for the Mustangs
Jacob Pollock, Sr., Pasco The Pirates need him to be solid to return to the playoffs
Top three defenders
John Gorman, Sr., Land O'Lakes Anchor of the defensive unit
Chris Jenkins, Sr., Land O'Lakes Four-year starter
Josh Fox, Sr., Hudson Veteran is Cobras' fastest player
Top five players on the ball
Vinny Panetta, Sr., River Ridge Coach Mike McHugh says, "as he goes, team goes"
Max Rockwell, Jr., Mitchell Tore ACL 20 minutes into sophomore season — after scoring a goal
Taylor Lamphier, Sr., Hudson Cobras' assist leader last season
Felix Soto, Sr., Land O'Lakes The Gators' cross country star can run with the ball
Sebastian Garcia, Sr., Land O'Lakes Had 19 assists and nine goals

North Suncoast top five
Team Outlook
1. Land O'Lakes The Gators lose three players from a team that went 25-2-1
2. Hudson Nearly everyone back from 16-6-2 district champ
3. River Ridge Ten seniors back from a team that took Land O'Lakes to overtime
4. Central Experienced returners plus new talent
5. Mitchell Started a ton of sophomores last year and won 14 games

North Suncoast boys soccer season preview 11/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 13, 2008 10:22pm]
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