While the Daytona 500 auto race draws most of the attention this weekend, the Gulf High Buccaneers boys soccer team is more interested in winning the Daytona 80. The Buccaneers' race for the Class 3A, Section II championship is measured in minutes, not miles. Two 40-minute halves in Daytona Beach against the Seabreeze Scorpions could either erase or prolong the memory of losing at this level last season.
This year's opponent, Seabreeze (20-0-1), won the Region III championship Tuesday with a 1-0 victory over Satellite Beach - the same team that beat the Bucs 1-0 in the Section II match last year.
Gulf coach Ron Barnett has been scrambling for information about the Scorpions from coaches along the Space Coast on short notice.
"With that record, obviously, they have held their own above all their competitors," Barnett said. "When it comes down to it, it's just going to be key for us to keep our game and see what we can react to if they have an offensive attack."
Gulf has been much better at playing its brand of ball in the past few weeks, according to Barnett. The Buccaneers (17-2-3) have not lost in the past 10 games, and six wins during that span were shutouts.
Gulf has outscored opponents 40-4 in that period and two of those goals were penalty kicks.
"It only takes one slip like we had last year at Satellite Beach and it's all over," Barnett said, recalling how a Satellite goal slipped through the injured arm of goalie Bobby Hudson in that narrow loss.
Experience gained in last year's trip to the Section II game in will help. Leading scorer Tim D'Amico (15 goals), Tony Wienicki, Fred Kelso and goalkeeper Chris Saradin are seniors who remember well what went right and wrong in Satellite Beach.
"I think that going into this game they are not that nervous," Barnett said. "They realize last year they had an opportunity that they couldn't take advantage of. Now they have a second - and for the seniors a last - chance. Those guys have their heads on and know what they need to do and the leadership role they must carry."
Plenty of other Buccaneers have contributed key plays this season.
Scott Perry, Brent Whaley and Fred Afriat have each scored post-season playoff goals.
"Each game our younger players have picked up something to add to their game piece by piece," Barnett said. "Jake Misemer is a freshman and he's played on competitive teams but now he's playing with Under-18 caliber of play. It's a culture shock to guys like him and (sophomores) Danny Aylward, Jeff Starkey, Todd Shaw and Peter Desjardins. Each day their game has expanded more and more."
One difference between this year's trip to the East Coast is that the Bucs only have to travel once this week. Last season they went to Oviedo for a 2-1 overtime victory over the Lions and followed that with a Friday date in Satellite Beach. Barnett believes since the Bucs played at home on Tuesday they will be in better mental and physical shape.
"I think our fitness showed (in the 3-0 Region IV win over Sanford Seminole) because they couldn't keep up with the ball at the end," Barnett said. "Having double and triple practice sessions on Saturday and all of the drudgery will hopefully pay off at this time of year."
Directions to Daytona Beach
Take I-4 East to Route 92 and continue into Daytona Beach. Turn left on 11th St. and Municipal Stadium is located three miles away.