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Palm Harbor boys soccer team has state title in net, chant in heart

Palm Harbor University goalkeeper Max Gallin, center, and teammates celebrate their 2-1 victory over Freedom on Saturday.


Palm Harbor University goalkeeper Max Gallin, center, and teammates celebrate their 2-1 victory over Freedom on Saturday.

PALM HARBOR — It's the same before every game.

The Palm Harbor University boys soccer players gather after the lineups have been announced and the last note of the national anthem plays over the stadium loudspeakers.

They huddle, facing each other, hands high in the air, joining in the center.

The jumping starts. Rhythmic jumping. Up and down in unison. Then the chant.

"PHU, what time is it? Time to get loud. Time to represent."

The same refrain, repeated four times. Each time a little louder until the last, when it's a full-on shout.


The 2008-09 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

A year earlier, the Hurricanes won 17 straight games to open the season and finished as the district runner-up. But nine seniors graduated from that team. The scoring punch left with the departure of goal magnet Ishmail Kamara (team-high 20 goals).

The defense, minus three starters, was in flux.

The Hurricanes never got the memo that said they weren't a contender.

A rebuilt back line with a brick wall in goal — senior net-minder Max Gallin — yielded one goal during PHU's run through the Class 5A playoffs.

Five games. One goal. Four straight shutouts to reach the state title game.

A team dependant on a single scorer suddenly had two precise finishers, Matthew Tobin (15 goals) and Ben Sweat (13) combining to form a menacing duo up top. And the Hurricanes got timely contributions elsewhere.

Against Freedom in the state championship, PHU's Alexandre Millette bombed a left-footed rebound into the net for the game's first score.

It was Millette's second goal of the season.

"You always hope it's your game to score," Millette said after that goal. "It just depends on where the ball falls. The ball fell to me this time, and I'm just glad I could finish for the team."

Andrew Smith converted a penalty kick for the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Freedom for the Hurricanes' third state championship (PHU also won titles in 2002 and 2006).

"A bunch of teams were kind of, 'Ah, Palm Harbor's not the same. They've lost nine seniors.' And it's true. We weren't the same team," PHU coach Alex Delgado said days before his team's 2-0 semifinal win over Monarch. "We're definitely a much better team. A much more experienced, a much more mature team. These guys have been through a lot, the highs and lows."

As the Hurricanes received their championship medals in front of the spectators at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium, Delgado stood back with a serene smile as he scanned the crowd.

The second-year coach suited up for UT's soccer team for three seasons (2003-06). And it was on the same field that PHU won its first state championship in 2002.

Delgado was a junior sweeper for the Hurricanes that year.

For Delgado, soccer really had brought him full circle.

In front of him, the players gathered for the last time, repeating their mantra, a fitting ending to a championship run.


Time to celebrate.

Fast facts
Double shot
Eight high schools in Florida this decade have won boys and girls state soccer titles in the same year. Only one – Palm Harbor – has done it twice. Here's a list of the schools that pulled doubles.
2009: Melbourne (Class 6A)
2009: Palm Harbor (5A)
2008: Ponte Vedra Beach Nease (4A)
2008: Tampa Prep (2A)
2006: Delray Beach American Heritage (2A)
2006: Palm Harbor (5A)
2005: Plantation American Heritage (3A)
2005: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (5A)
2003: Melbourne Central Catholic (A)

Palm Harbor boys soccer team has state title in net, chant in heart 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 10:59pm]
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