One couldn't blame Hillsborough coach Mike Connell for being pleased after his boys and girls senior all-star teams scored convincing wins over their counterparts from Pinellas in the Class of '94 Soccer Challenge.
But it was not just his players' performances that made the former Rowdies star smile.
"I think this is a great idea and it can only get better," he said. "If this event is given the respect it is due, it could become a great event in Tampa. To our kids this was an honor."
The event pits the best boys and girls seniors from both counties against each other and gives them a final chance to show their wares for college coaches and fans.
Chamberlain senior Scott Pearson was impressive, tallying a goal and an assist on his way to earning the Hillsborough boys MVP award. Pearson is considering offers from the University of Louisville and American University in Washington, D.C., while also keeping professional options in England open.
He opened the scoring when he headed in Mike Degenova's cross from the left side. Bloomingdale's Kevin Varnadoe added to the lead with his goal in the 23rd minute. Mike Germain created the play by pushing up past the Pinellas midfield and hitting Varnadoe, who was streaking unchecked down the right sideline.
Pearson set up teammate JoJo Nicoletto in the 48th minute, giving Hillsborough a 3-0 lead. Todd Moniz, also a Chief, capped the scoring in the 71st minute off an assist from Berkeley Prep's Marcus Saskin, and the Hillsborough lads won 4-1.
Berkeley Prep's Amanda Gauthier collected the girls MVP award with her two unassisted second-half goals in a 3-0 smashing of Pinellas.
"A lot of their players play on my club team, and I know they are good," Gauthier said. "We were intimidated, but everybody played real hard. I think maybe we had more heart."
With starting goalkeepers Amber Collins of Bloomingdale and Michelle Joyce of Brandon out with knee injuries, Hillsborough was forced to rely on sophomore Sarah Shivley of Chamberlain. But she showed she is a player to watch as she made five saves, including three serious Pinellas scoring chances in the first half.
Spirit on rise: The Temple Terrace Spirit, winner of the under-17 national title in August, will begin practice this week in their attempt at this year's under-18 title.
Their first action will come during the Easter break at the Countryside International Easter Tournament in Clearwater. The Spirit was second last year in the under-19 division and, according to coach Harris McIlwain, will "play up" again this year.
McIlwain received some good news recently when Jay Feely announced he will be able to join the Spirit. Feely received a football scholarship to kick for Michigan and it was feared he would not be available this summer. But after speaking with Wolverines offensive line coach Les Miles, who recruited him, Feely concluded that staying home would be in his best interests.
"The only reason I would go up there is to get a job, work out and train," he said, "but I will be doing the same thing here. Plus, if I went up there I wouldn't be able to go to kicking camp (Rob and Ray Pelfry's camp at the University of Florida, where Feely received national recognition last summer)."
Signings: The University of South Florida scored a recruiting victory when it received oral commitments from Spirit teammates Varnadoe and Nicoletto.
Other Spirit players to make commitments are all-state players Mike Ripley (Davidson) and Germain (Washington and Lee), both of whom played for Berkeley Prep. Henry Garcia of Jesuit is looking at North Carolina-Charlotte, and Armwood keeper Skip Miller will decide between Louisville, Central Florida and Florida International. All-state stopper Joe Marshburn of Berkeley is leaning toward Maryland, where he would join teammate and Class 3A player of the year Mike McIlwain.