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West Hernando Christian makes district debut

The boys soccer team at West Hernando Christian School was overjoyed when it heard the news earlier this year.

The school was going to play in the Florida High School Activities Association instead of at the lower competition level of the Christian schools league.

It is the level every player wished for.

"Last year we were playing a lot of dinky teams," said team captain Justin Buckwalter. "We'd go in and kill them and that wasn't fun."

The boys got their wish _ and now they're paying for it.

Two seniors and one junior led the team, which finished the regular season with a 2-6 record. It was a team that needed a sixth-grader to fill out the squad. Tonight that team will play in its first district tournament when it takes on Bradenton St. Stephen's Episcopal, third-ranked in in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association poll, at Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg.

"We're definitely not a discouraged group," said acting athletic director Debbie Brown. "(The players) were excited just being able to play the more competitive teams."

The road has been a struggle for the fledgling team. Coach Randy Hill had to scrape together a squad that was completely inexperienced at the FHSAA level of play.

"We got so many young kids," he said. "Next year they're going to be a much better team."

Hill said he saw a lot of talent on this year's squad. Beyond that, he felt his team improved with every practice and especially with every game.

Still, Hill answers every offering of good luck for tonight's match with a half-joking, half-serious, "We're gunna need it." Hill has seen his players grow together as a team, and that, he said, is promising for the future.

"It's a matter of building a team _ it takes time to do that," he said. "There are a lot of players on this team that in two years, if they stick together, they're going to be good."