Since 1988, Pinellas County has had at least one girls soccer team advance to the state final four, and at least one team has reached the championship in its classification in six of the past seven seasons. But last season marked the first time the county did not bring home a state title since 2008. Is there a team that can make a run this year? Girls soccer begins this week, so we're answering three pressing questions heading into the season:
Who are the top two players?
Seminole senior forward Gina Hayduke can score goals. St. Petersburg Catholic senior goalkeeper Maggie Dalessio can stop them. Both players guided their teams to the final four last year.
Hayduke, the St. Petersburg Times' 2010-11 county player of the year, scored a county-best 36 goals, including a combined six in two district games. She will have to take on even more of the scoring responsibilities with the graduation of six starters, including Sierra Lelii, who scored a combined 58 goals the past two seasons. But there is enough talent to make a third straight state tournament appearance.
Dalessio helped the Barons reach the state final four for the first time by smothering shots to lead a defense that recorded six straight shutouts in the postseason. In the state semifinals, Dalessio turned in her best performance, thwarting numerous penalty kick attempts against Lakeland Highland Prep. Defense will again be the Barons' calling card as they try to make another postseason run in a tough district that includes Clearwater Central Catholic.
Is Palm Harbor University back?
The Hurricanes have been the county's most dominant program, advancing to the state title game five of six seasons from 2005-10 and winning three championships during that span. But last season, PHU went through a rebuilding phase. The Hurricanes had their 34-game win streak snapped in a season-opening loss to CCC and did not make it to the state final four for the first time since 2008. The young players are now more experienced, led by midfielder Paige Lombard and forward Kelly Phipps. That should be enough for PHU to get back to the state tournament.
Who else could contend?
Though it graduated plenty of starters, CCC should be in the mix with forward Kaitlyn Parker leading the way. East Lake will count on forward Madison Del Duca and midfielder Amanda Byrne. Countryside only lost two starters and should be a contender. St. Petersburg is always strong, with Christina Mendoza and Katie Pelton both returning.