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Whither the Heather? All the way to the top

In the 10 years Tony Fusco has coached the Town 'N Country Heather girls soccer team, it has won nine state titles, four Southeast regional titles, and a national title.

Now, in what will be the last chance for three of his players, Fusco wants to add a fifth regional title and a second national crown to his teams' accomplishments.

Graduating seniors Stacia Masters, Amy Jones and Michelle Goaziou are in their last year with the Heather, and according to Fusco, they will settle for nothing less than a national title.

"They want it very bad," he said, "and they are the motivators for the rest of the team. We have talked and we know that we have worked harder than any team in there."

Last year the Heather came up just short of the national championship, losing 2-1 to the Chicago Sting in the final.

"This team feels as though they are a better team than last year," Fusco said. "This team has more balance and speed, plus more talent and depth."

This year the Heather prepared for the tournament by playing six games against college teams. The Heather won five of them, defeating Duke, University of Central Florida, Florida International (their one loss was to FIU), Florida Atlantic and Barry.

"They are very confident," Fusco said. "They have beaten some of the best teams in the country. They (other teams in the tournament) couldn't be much tougher than the teams we have already beaten. Now we just have to go in with the right attitude."

Fusco's program is highly acclaimed, and the three players who will be leaving have all received scholarships from major schools. Masters, who became the second all-time leading scorer in the state while playing at Leto, received a full scholarship to Notre Dame. Goaziou will play at Arkansas and Jones will play at UCF.

"The program is a proven winner year after year," Notre Dame coach Chris Petrocilli said. "They continue to have players as good as anywhere, and Tony is a guy who knows how to win games, knows how to prepare and get his players ready to play."

"Basically, they do the same thing we do at UNC," said Chris Bishoff, trainer for 10-time national champion North Carolina. "He has the ability to blend talent. He brings out the best in all the girls and gets them to play together. That is why we recruit many of his players."

Petrocilli said the Heather matches up favorably with the nation's best teams.

"They're capable of winning a national title," he said. "Them and South Texas are the best in that region. I don't think any one else is even close."

The Heather roster includes Masters, the Times Hillsborough County Player of the Year; and Clearwater Central Catholic's Robin Confer, the Pinellas Player of the Year.

Confer scored 63 goals in the 1992-93 high school season while leading her team to the Class 2A state championship.

Other key players are Denise Alvarez and Countryside's Michelle Harris, and four players from the 1992 Class 3A state champion Lakewood team: Angela Brames, Emily Clark, Sara Kesler, and Julie Schramek.

The team also includes Summer Lawler (King), Amanda Gauthier (Berkeley Prep), Shannon Cooper (East Lake), Jennifer Ahern (Sarasota), Kristen Schier (Bradenton Manatee), Mary Kay Merkle (Cape Coral-Mariner), and Jessica Dewberry (Cocoa Beach).

Having talent and depth at this level is a necessity, according to Fusco.

"The competition is very fierce at that level," he said. "If coaches see a weak player they will attack that position. When you play that many games in that short a time, you have to have a talented roster and you have to have a deep, deep 18-person roster."