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Pinellas girls soccer preview: A Palm Harbor University senior's final run at glory

PHU forward Catherine Brinkman, left, battling Seminole’s Melanie Benner, scored 34 goals in leading the Hurricanes to the Class 5A state championship last season.

LARA CERRI | Times

PHU forward Catherine Brinkman, left, battling Seminole’s Melanie Benner, scored 34 goals in leading the Hurricanes to the Class 5A state championship last season.

Last season, Palm Harbor University forward Catherine Brinkman scored 34 goals to lead the Hurricanes to the Class 5A state championship, the school's fourth. With Brinkman back, along with all but three starters, the Hurricanes again figure into the title picture, albeit in 6A after moving up a classification. We caught up with Brinkman in between training sessions as the senior prepares for her final high school season (PHU opens Nov. 10 at Clearwater Central Catholic).

Does this year's team have the talent to be better than last year's?

I think so. I mean, we had Ellycia Colon and Ashlin Cook in the back, so we lost two defenders (Colon graduated; Cook, a senior, is out for the year after an offseason injury). It's hard to build a defense missing two girls, but we have some talented freshmen and some good sophomores and juniors that are ready to fill in. I expect a lot from our team. If we work as hard as we did last year and put in the effort, I expect a good finish from our team. I definitely think we have the talent and the determination.

Zoe Lombard is healthy again after missing all of last season. What kind of impact will her return have?

It definitely is going to change our offense with her speed and the way she uplifts our team spirit. Last year, she was still a big part of our team, even though she didn't play. She's a great captain as well as player. She never puts anyone down. She's very good to have on the field. When I played with her sophomore year, we worked very well together at forward.

With so many talented players on your team, is it difficult settling on a starting 11?

We'll definitely have a good lineup. The girls that are coming off the bench are very strong. We don't have one weak player. And we can switch things up. Last year, most of the time we played a 3-4-3, but then in the playoffs, we played a 3-5-2 and dropped Paige Lombard back into the midfield. That seemed to work for us. In the preseason, we played with a stopper and four in the back, which is a bit different for us. But we can move and shift people around.

When you enter a new season, do you have a number in mind of how many goals you'd like to score?

I try not to set personal goals. For me, it's all about the team. As long as my team's winning, that's all that matters. Last year, the good season that I had, if I think about it as much, I tend not to do as well. But I always hope that my team has faith in me to score. That last minute of the game when we need a goal, they look to get me the ball. Now with Zoe up top, some of the pressure will be taken off me, but the same time, I'll take that pressure on my shoulders because I think that's what makes the game more exciting.

How different will it be not having East Lake in the same district?

It will be weird for me and a lot of the girls because East Lake has always been our motivation. That's that one game that was always a tough game where if we lost it, it would be crazy for us. You didn't want to lose that game.

Five to watch

F Kaley Blades, Sr., Dunedin LSU commit took last year off but returns for her senior season on a much-improved Falcons squad.
F Megan Lawrence, Sr., Seminole Leader of the high-powered Warhawks offense scored 27 goals and assisted on 11 others last season.
M Thea Linkfield, Sr., Countryside Speedy, attacking midfielder will be counted on to take the Cougars to the next level.
F Zoe Lombard, Sr., Palm Harbor University Sidelined all last season with an ACL injury, Lombard combines with Catherine Brinkman to form a powerful goal-scoring duo up top for the Hurricanes.
M Adriana Rodrigues, Sr., St. Petersburg Versatile, intelligent player on and off the ball will play for Florida next season.

Key matchups/tournaments

Palm Harbor University at East Lake, Nov. 13: After playing five times last season, the two neighborhood rivals have only this scheduled meeting.

St. Petersburg Catholic at Berkeley Prep, Dec. 4: This could be an early preview of the district final and region semifinal.

St. Petersburg at Countryside, Dec. 8: An important district battle between two teams looking to make deep playoff runs.

Seminole at Palm Harbor University, Dec. 9: On paper, these are the county's top two teams entering the season.

Hurricane Watch tournament at Palm Harbor University, Dec. 14-18: Alonso, Countryside, East Lake, St. Petersburg and Sickles look to dethrone defending tournament champion PHU.

Top teams

Countryside: The Cougars have scoring power with Thea Linkfield and sisters Kendall and Riley Narum, plus a dependable keeper in Kim Cohn. A preseason win over Palm Harbor University has Countryside buzzing.

East Lake: Not the star-studded lineup of seasons past, but the Eagles hope to play more as a team this year. Florida commit Tatiana Perez will be counted on to score, and keeper Alicia Aldridge is one of the best at stopping them.

Osceola: Former Pinellas Park boys coach Larry Ferrol takes over, inheriting a talented Warriors team that won districts a year ago.

Palm Harbor University: The defending Class 5A champions will battle an unfamiliar cast of playoff opponents this season after making the leap to 6A.

St. Petersburg: A strong senior nucleus headlined by Adriana Rodrigues, Nastassja Saitta, Niki Carter and Lauren Grove has the Green Devils thinking playoffs after a two-year absence.

St. Petersburg Catholic: Maggie Dalessio was sensational in her debut season as Barons goalkeeper. Now a sophomore, she'll anchor the defense while forwards Kelsey Doughtery-Howard and Casey McKeon combine up top.

Seminole: Megan Lawrence, Noel Forsman and Sierra Lelii could form the county's top goal-scoring tandem. Forsman set a Seminole record with 24 assists last season.

Pinellas girls soccer preview: A Palm Harbor University senior's final run at glory 11/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 1, 2009 9:45pm]
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