Palm Harbor University girls soccer coach John Planamenta says Hurricanes goalkeeper Nikki Brewer is one of the best stoppers in the area.
Brewer's problem? She doesn't get enough opportunities to showcase her skills. In seven games for the Hurricanes, all victories, Brewer has had to make just 14 saves.
Scoring opportunities are a rare commodity for opponents against a defense that features three senior starters in Cina Salemi, Shannon Walisch and Colleen Lynch. Add in role players like Cory Amend, Renee Huy and Nicole Naclerio, and the Hurricanes are as deep and talented on defense as any team in the bay area.
"They've done well back there," Planamenta said. "Sometimes we play three in the back, sometimes four, but even with three in the back we do a good job organizing. And whenever the other team has a scoring opportunity, Nikki does a great job eliminating the threat."
PHU has been scored on only once this season. The Hurricanes own shutouts over good teams like East Lake, Clearwater Central Catholic and Osceola.
"We've played some tough competition, but they're doing very well," Planamenta said.
THE ROAD MUCH TRAVELED: One group at Countryside didn't benefit from the Cougars' region final football run.
The boys and girls soccer teams have just one home game each for the remainder of the regular season — a pivotal district matchup with Palm Harbor University on Jan. 5.
That's because heavy rain during Plant's 24-9 football victory over the Cougars at Countryside on Friday left the field a muddy mess.
"The field's unplayable until we come back from break, and at that point we only have one home game left," boys coach David Sica said.
The Cougars swept district rival St. Petersburg on Tuesday in a doubleheader originally scheduled for Countryside, and Friday's games against Sarasota Riverview will be played at PHU.
Sica's boys squad also was forced to switch a home game in November when the football team hosted Freedom in the region quarterfinals.
OLD NORTHEAST: One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the Northeast boys.
The Vikings lost 13 seniors from a year ago and have six new starters, yet at 3-0-1 are undefeated.
A stingy defense has kept opponents off the scoreboard. The Vikings have surrendered only two goals and held defending south county champion Lakewood scoreless in a 0-0 draw to start December.
Northeast coach Thomas Blauvelt said the addition of Troy Pruitt and Shawn Delmontagne from outside the soccer program has bolstered what he feared would be a suspect back line. Pruitt is a kicker for the football team; Delmontagne is an all-county baseball player.
"I'm always bugging those two to play because I know that they're also soccer players and they're great athletes," Blauvelt said. "Their athleticism is really shutting teams down."
Blauvelt's teams have a reputation for playing physical, aggressive defense. This year is no exception with Pruitt and Delmontagne combining with holdover Richie Parrey, who organizes the defense.
"Those guys have been like animals in the back for us," he said.