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|
|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|