Bloomingdale boys soccer coach Steve Houle borrowed a scene from the movie Hoosiers on Wednesday. Trying to get his team prepared for its first trip to the Class 4A state tournament, Houle employed the same strategy Gene Hackman used in the movie, just before his Hickory High boys basketball team played in the Indiana state tournament.
"I told them that in the state tournament, the outside box is still 18 yards from the goal and the inside box will still be 6 yards out," Houle said. "The goal will be 24 feet by 8 feet and the game is still won by putting the ball in the back of the net. It's the same game we've been playing all year."
Same game, different setting.
Bloomingdale make its first trip to the state tournament tonight when it faces Jacksonville Fletcher at the Tampa's Pepin/Rood Stadium at 8 p.m. In the other 4A semifinal, Miami Killian will square off against Winter Park at 3 p.m. The winners play for the state title Saturday at 8 p.m.
Bloomingdale (19-2) takes an 11-game winning streak into tonight's contest and 17 of the Bulls' 19 wins this year have been by shutout. But Houle has plenty to be concerned about.
Fletcher (25-0-3) is the only undefeated 4A team in the state and has scored 158 goals in its 28 games (5.6 per game).
"We've just got to go out and earn Fletcher's respect," Houle said. "They are an undefeated team and that's something that we couldn't do this year. We've got to prove ourselves and seize the moment."
Another concern is that Thursday's practice was one of the worst of the season for the Bloomingdale team, according to Houle. But he does feel that it may have a cleansing effect for the squad.
"We looked very tense (Thursday)," Houle said. "I think they finally realized what's in front of them. But you need to get those jitters out. Sometimes it happens on the practice field, sometimes it's on the field during the game. Hopefully, we got those jitters out of the way."
The biggest difference between the state tournament and other post-season contests will be the field. Although Jesuit is the official host, Tampa's Pepin/Rood Stadium is 70 yards wide _ 10 yards wider than most fields.
To prepare for the game, Houle has his team practicing from sideline to sideline.
"The ball never goes out of bounds," Houle said. "But that should play right into our style of play. We play a possession type of game and the wider field will just give us more room to possess the ball."
Fletcher has also changed its practice technique to prepare for the wider field.
"We've been going out and practicing on fields without boundaries," Fletcher coach Kevin Brown said. "The field will make it a different game. The key question will be how long will it take us to adjust to it. The field will force us to pick up every aspect of our game. We'll have to mark better, pass better and be more intense."
Like Bloomingdale, Fletcher will be making its first appearance in the state final four. The Senators feature Duval County's two leading scorers.
Reid Clanton (30 goals, 15 assists) and John Schlobohm (31 goals, 10 assists) finished first and second atop the county's scoring chart, respectively, at the end of regular-season play. But it's midfielder Mark Cagnassola that makes the Senators tick.
"Mark is the ideal midfielder," Brown said. "He's very smart and controls most of our game. He has the ability to know when to play fast and when to slow it down. He's our key because he dictates our offensive attack."
There will be two sessions on Friday with each session costing $4. Gates open at 11 a.m. on Friday with the 3A semifinal between Tallahassee Leon and Boca Raton beginning at noon, before Winter Park and Miami Killian play at 3 p.m.
Gates for the second session open at 5 p.m. with Daytona Seabreeze playing St. Petersburg in the second 3A semifinal at 6 p.m., before the Fletcher-Bloomingdale game at 8 p.m.
The 3A championship game will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, with the 4A game slated for 8 p.m.
Coach: Jay Flipse, 1st year
Trips to state: six
Key players: Eric Exelbert, Sr., Forward; Jiobanni Punzo, Jr., Forward; Randy Tootle, Sr., Midfielder; Ricardo Mogollon, Sr., Midfielder; Jimmy Hendrix, Sr., Sweeper.
Notes: Miami Killian has an uncanny knack for success in the state final four. Of the six appearances in the state, Killian has won four times (1977, 1983-84 and 1988) and was runner-up twice.
This year, however, Flipse has had to juggle his lineup because of injuries and hasn't been able to put his best 11 players on the field at one time all year. But Killian has managed to overcome the adversity when it counted most _ in the post season.
"It's been a roller coaster season for us," Flipse said. "We really felt like we could beat Clearwater Central Catholic in the Pizza Hut Invitational, and that loss took a lot out of us. But we used that as a rallying point and, despite the injuries, this team has managed to stay focused."
Coach: Terry Offner, 10th year
Trips to state: four
Key players: Ray Colado, Sr., Midfielder; Brian Greenspoon, Jr., Sweeper; Kirk Mackey, Sr., Forward; Quinn O'Sullivan, So., Goalkeeer; Ed O'Neal, Sr., Defender; Shawn Dyer, Sr., Defender.
Notes: The Wildcats are on a roll. Winter Park hasn't lost a game since dropping two straight in the Pizza Hut Invitational Dec. 26-27. Sophomore goalkeeper Quinn O'Sullivan has filled in admirably for senior Clint Davis, who suffered a shoulder injury early in the season. O'Sullivan has since registered 17 shutouts.
Kirk Mackey leads the Wildcats' offensive attack with 35 goals and eight assists on the season. Ray Colado, a National Soccer Coaches All-South Team selection, has chipped in with 15 goals and 14 assists for Winter Park.
Coach: Steve Houle, 3rd year
Trips to state: 1st
Key players: Chad Bridges, Sr., Goalkeeper; David Allen, Sr., Forward; Mike Heald, Sr., Midfielder; Johnny McCray, Sr., Defender; Steve Brady, Sr., Midfielder; Andy Laverghetta, So., Forward; Mike Sherman, So., Stopper.
Notes: Bloomingdale will be riding an 11-game winning streak into the first round of the state tournament and 17 of the Bulls' 19 victories have been via a shutout.
Both of Bloomingdale's losses came in regular season play, and both were avenged in the post season. The Bulls defeated Brandon 1-0 in the Class 4A, District 5 championship game before upending Gaither 1-0 in the Region III title match.
Coach: Kevin Brown, 4th year
Trips to state: 1st
Key players: Danny Manning, Sr., Sweeper; Louise Verge, So., Defender; Jason Agate, Sr., Defender; Jason Reynolds, Sr., Midfielder; Mark Cagnassola, Sr., Midfielder; Reid Clanton, Sr., Forward, John Schlobohm, Jr., Forward.
Notes: Fletcher will be led by forwards Reid Clanton and John Scholobohm. Clanton has 30 goals and 15 assists this year, while Scholobohm has 31 goals, 10 assists.
At the end of the regular season, Clanton and Scholobohm were first and second in scoring for Duval County respectively.
"The majority of our team has been playing club soccer together since they were under the age of 12-years-old," Brown said. "Clanton and Scholobohm are no exception, and they work very well together."
_ Compiled by Dan Klepal