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They've got the Spirit heading into regionals

When the boys high school soccer season ends, many players move on to other sports. But for others, it is just a beginning.

During the club season, players pursue another state title, which is usually the crowning moment of their soccer careers.

For many members of the Temple Terrace Spirit boys under-17 team, state titles are just one of the many championships they hope to attain during their careers. The Spirit's next quest is the national under-17 championship. One of the stops on the way is Tuesday's Southeast Regional in Jackson, Miss.

There they will face the best teams in the Southeast, with the tournament winner earning a berth in the national tournament later this summer in Tucson, Ariz.

Past successes in high school and club soccer should give its players confidence.

Many Spirit members experienced their second state title of the year after beating Miami Sunrise in the State Cup final last month. Ten of the Spirit's 16 membersplayed on 1993 high school state championship squads.

Alen Kozic, Mike McIllwain, Mike Ripley, Mike Germain, Joe Marshburn, Johnathon Bruck, and Marcus Saskin were members of Berkeley Prep's Class 2A championship team, while Kevin Varnadoe, Kevin Tempel and Peter Janss helped win the 4A state title for Bloomingdale.

Six other Spirit players were selected to the Times all-county team: Henry Garcia, Jay Feely, Jason Kmiotek, Scott Pearson, Mike DeGenova and Skip Miller.

Coach Harris McIllwain attributes much of team's success to his staff. Ex-Rowdies Mike Connell, Resic Kozic (Alen's father) and Steve Wegerle have worked with many of the Spirit players since the age of 11.

"I think we are playing well," McIllwain said. "The problem is that we just don't know that much about the other teams. Usually North Texas, Georgia and North Carolina are always perennially strong."

Although he may not know much about his competition, McIllwain does believe his team has the talent and will to win the tournament, even though he is reluctant to make predictions.

"I'm very superstitious about that," said McIllwain. "They are a hard-working team and they are working hard in practice. They grind it out and don't quit. Now it is just a matter of mental and physical preparation."

Along with the team's work ethic, McIllwain is counting on its championship experience and the lessons learned last summer when the Spirit played some of the best youth teams in England during a two-week trip.

"After that (trip to England), you look at the game differently," said McIllwain. "That is why we go; it makes the team a lot better.

"We are fortunate they have played enough games like this in that I know that they can handle the pressure. We have practiced well all week, and now the other variables like injuries come into play."

The Spirit will play its first game Tuesday, with subsequent games on Wednesday and Thursday. The semifinals will be held Friday and the final Saturday.

If McIllwain and the Spirit players get their wishes, they will return Sunday with another championship to add to their list.