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It's tournament time in soccer // Hurricanes primed for run to state playoffs

The way the guys at Citrus figure it, this has to be the year. No excuses will be accepted.

With one of the most prolific offenses in Class 5A, District 4, a defense that seems to improve with every game, and plenty of experience to draw upon, Citrus expects nothing less than a berth in the state playoffs.

And unlike last year, there are no key injuries to hold the Hurricanes back. Likewise, no excuses will be accepted if disaster should strike and leave Citrus home for the second straight year.

"I think we're going to win it," goalkeeper Ron Pekin said. "We have experience from 4A and last year was our first in 5A. I think we're ready and our defense is what's going to win it for us."

An unusual prediction considering the fact the Hurricanes' offense is one of the best in the county and in the district. Forwards Clint Stokes (18 goals, eight assists) and Jorge Camargo (20, 12) are the county's top two scorers, and three others are among the county's top 10 in total points.

Which probably explains the lack of attention garnered by the defense, which has been pretty impressive itself. Pekin and the rest of the defenders have eight shutouts to their credit this year.

Still, one has to wonder: Do the Hurricanes really have what it takes to win the district title, or for that matter, just make the playoffs?

Most results would indicate yes. Citrus has fared well against its district opponents. It has topped Leesburg and Vanguard twice, Palatka once (by a large margin) and top seed Gainesville in the season opener. However, chances are the Hurricanes will face the only district team that beat them this season _ Gainesville Buchholz.

The Bobcats handed Citrus a 5-3 loss two weeks ago at Citizen's Field in Gainesville, breaking a 3-3 tie in the final 2 minutes. Buchholz, though, has to beat Leesburg (at Gainesville) on Monday to advance.

Yet, the Citrus players will tell you that things should be different if they face the Bobcats again. For one, they won't be playing at Citizen's Field, where they've never won. Instead, they will be at Leesburg, a site the Hurricanes feel more than comfortable with.

"We've always had trouble on that field and I don't know why," Pekin said of Citizen's Field. "But I think the best game we played last year was at Leesburg."

Last year's tournament still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many Hurricanes. Citrus came in with a strong team and expectations of playing at the next level, but was eliminated by Gainesville in the first round.

Pekin, though, chooses not to dwell on the past.

"I've just blocked out last yearThis year, we're going to get it done."

And no excuses will be accepted.

5A-4 BOYS TOURNAMENT AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Various sites.

WHEN: Monday _ Palatka at Vanguard, TBA; Leesburg at Buchholz (Citizen's Field), 6 p.m. Wednesday _ Gainesville vs. Vanguard/Palatka winner, 6 p.m.; Citrus vs. Leesburg/Buchholz winner, 8 p.m. (both matches at Leesburg High). Friday _ Championship at 7 p.m. (at Leesburg unless both Gainesville teams advance, then Citizen's).

SEEDING: North _ 1. Gainesville, 2. Buchholz, 3. Palatka. South _ 1. Citrus, 2. Vanguard, 3. Leesburg.

OUTLOOK: Gainesville should be the favorite despite the fact it is 2-1 at Citrus in the season opener. Citrus must eliminate the ghosts of last year's first-round collapse and stay composed in the heat of tough tournament games. The game to watch Monday is Buchholz and Leesburg. Citrus gets the winner and it's hoping it's Leesburg.

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