The soccer season has blown through the North Suncoast like one of those winter cold fronts. So here are 10 things you should know heading into the season's home stretch.
1. Mustangs' trot
Mitchell's girls blazed through Tuesday's 3-1 win over Hudson the way they have through North Suncoast teams all season. Few would argue Mitchell is the team to beat locally. The Mustangs' lone loss was 5-0 to Lakeland George Jenkins on Nov. 20. Since then, they have gone 8-0-2. Mitchell historically plays in a tough Class 6A, District 7, but has grabbed a hold of first place.
2. Lethal Cobras
Hudson had its 11-game win streak snapped by the Mustangs on Tuesday after winning 14 of 15 before the 3-1 loss. Two reasons for the streak are Lindsay Zullo and Alicia Schuering, with 16 and 15 goals, respectively. The Cobras have outscored opponents 54-16 and limited opponents to one goal or fewer in 12 games.
3. New Year's resolution: beat Hudson
Hudson's girls have proved to be Springstead's best opponent locally the past two seasons. Last year, the teams tied every game until the Cobras broke out to a 1-0 win in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament. This season, Springstead has lost both meetings (1-0 and 2-1) using its defensive-style game plan. Might be time to go on the attack.
4. Father-daughter tandem
Zephyrhills coach Michael Mira has guided the Bulldogs to a 12-4-1 record thanks in part to daughter Brandi, who has ripped 24 goals as a senior. Brandi has had several multiple-goal games, including two where she scored four goals. Zephyrhills could be one of those spoiler teams come district tournament time despite the loss of assists leader Laurren McLeod to a torn ACL.
5. Brick walls
Between them, River Ridge keepers Jessica Olin and Lisa Jadick have allowed just eight goals. Both have played almost equal time with similar results. With Olin in net, the Royal Knights won five games. Jadick is 6-1 with her lone loss coming to Mitchell. Both have posted four shutouts and appear capable of carrying River Ridge to another home playoff berth.
6. Gator grit?
Land O'Lakes has made a habit of playing strong throughout the regular season only to choke when the playoffs begin. The Gators have quietly amassed a 15-2-2 record and appear primed for a postseason run. Though not as deep as last year's 25-2-1 nationally ranked team, Land O'Lakes has plenty of star power with midfielder Dominic Cutrofello and keeper Alex Spock.
7. Central's in a bear of a district
Despite an 11-3 record, Central's boys face the very plausible scenario of notching a 15-win season and not making the playoffs. Led by prolific sophomores David Vitola (42 points) and Omar Odulaja (39), Central is 10-1 against anyone not named Land O'Lakes or River Ridge. But it is a combined 1-2 against the Knights and Gators, whom it will see in the 5A-7 tournament. What's more, Lecanto — the other team to defeat Central — is "almost a mirror image of River Ridge," coach Hank Deslaurier said. The Bears split their regular-season series against the Knights but have never defeated the Gators in Deslaurier's four seasons. They get another chance Friday night on the road.
8. December dormancy
Unlike most area basketball and wrestling teams, which played in at least one tournament during the winter break, a majority of the local soccer teams were idle. River Ridge's girls had 18 days between a Dec. 18 win at Pasco and Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to Lakeland Jenkins. Central's boys had an 18-day layoff before Wednesday's match at Wesley Chapel. So how do they stay sharp? Club soccer. Many area girls competed on various teams in the humongous Orange Classic International tourney in Broward County.
9. Cream puffs anonymous
Forget its district schedule. Mitchell's boys (6-8) have the toughest schedule, period, of any team around. Four of their first five opponents (Pasco, Berkeley Prep, Alonso, Sickles) have a combined record of 39-11-7. The sixth and seventh opponents, Clearwater Central Catholic and Countryside, own a combined 11 state titles. And we haven't even mentioned the Mustangs' district (6A-7) is annually one of the toughest in the Southeast — United States, that is.
10. Still mighty
Pasco's boys have overcome early uncertainty after the graduation of top scorer Jose Montelongo. The Pirates now appear to be a threat more than halfway through the season. Coach Barry Grayling guided Pasco through a rough 1-2-2 start, then watched the Pirates rattle off nine consecutive wins with seven games left before districts. Pasco has outscored opponents 52-10 thanks to Juan Davila (32 points) and Eric Garcia (20 points).