Palm Harbor University coach John Planamenta has carved a reputation in girls soccer as a defensive guru.
It was only natural that Planamenta would have a laserlike focus on that side of the ball considering he was a defender at Countryside High and at Flagler College. Planamenta also has an appreciation for goalkeepers. His college roommates played the position. So did Hurricanes assistant Darryl Southard.
That attention to detail has helped PHU's defense rank among the state's best. The Hurricanes have allowed just 12 goals and recorded 11 shutouts. It is a big reason PHU (18-0-5) has gone undefeated playing a brutal regular-season schedule and has survived a tough road through the playoffs to advance to today's Class 5A state semifinal against Vero Beach.
"These girls rank right up there with some of the defenses we've had," Planamenta said. "They're consistent and communicate so well with another."
Planamenta's defensive acumen is based on varied schemes designed to take out the opponent's top offensive threats. Because of that, teams rarely score their average against them. The strategy can change each game based on scouting reports.
In practice, Planamenta teaches the finer points of what he wants defensively. During games, he can become more animated, often barking out words that seem as if he invented a whole new language.
There's a strategy behind that, too.
"Well, I don't want to get a card for swearing at the officials," Planamenta said. "It's not a foreign language or anything. It's just made-up words or a rearrangement of them. It comes simply out of frustration."
There have not been too many aggravating moments this season, due in large part to a veteran defensive group that has played together for years. Three of the senior defenders — Quinn Lombard (Furman), Sarah Raymond (Tampa) and Mackenzie Geier (Northwestern State) — signed letters of intent Wednesday.
"We've grown up playing with each other," Lombard said. "We play for the same club team, too. We know each other so well that we know exactly where each other will be on the field."
The defense, which also has received a boost from the play of goalkeeper Rachel Taylor, helped compensate for an offense that struggled to score most of the year. Now, the offense is coming through, led by Alexis Mouton, an Alabama signee, who has a combined nine goals in the past six games.
With all facets of their game coming together, the Hurricanes rolled through the postseason, outscoring opponents a combined 20-3 to earn their first state semifinal berth since 2010. It is particularly gratifying for the seniors, who are going to their first state final four.
"This has been our goal all year," Lombard said. "Hopefully we can finish with a state title."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected]