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The Spartans are left thirsty at State Cup

(ran PAS edition)

The Land O'Lakes Spartans were dealt a quick ouster in the State Cup. It was three games and two penalty kick decisions and out for the Under-16 soccer team.

The Spartans, a competitive team in the Central Pasco United Soccer Association, had two ties and a loss in the preliminary round of the Florida Youth Soccer Association series April 18-19 at the Countryside Lightning complex in Clearwater.

Land O'Lakes then defeated Town 'N Country 4-2 in a shootout before coming up short on penalty kicks in a 4-3 loss to the Palm Beach Hornets.

"It was a horrible way to end it, but that's the way the rules were," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said of the sudden-death format that applied to teams with losing records.

The next tourney for the Spartans is the Memorial Day series to be played in Lakeland.

Justin Geisler, who played midfield for Land O'Lakes High this season, scored twice for the Spartans in the opener, a 3-3 tie with Palm Beach. Gaither's Dustin Beach had the other goal.

Pearson, who in his first season at Land O'Lakes High coached the Gators to a district final (they lost 4-0 to River Ridge), is coaching the Spartans for the first year. He coached a U-13 team from Northdale to the State Cup title in 1995.

The Spartans include high school players from Land O'Lakes, Gaither, Sickles, Hillsborough, River Ridge and Springstead. The other Land O'Lakes High players on the Spartans roster are Jason Parrish, Brad Savage and John Almodovar.

Pearson said club teams such as the one he coaches are akin to high school all-star squads. And, he added, college scouts tend to recruit from clubs more than from high school teams.

The additional playing time of being on a club team can do wonders for a high school soccer player's development. Pearson knows that firsthand, having played for Chamberlain High and club teams in Tampa, Carrollwood and St. Petersburg before starring as a University of Tampa defender.

"The best thing is year-round exposure to the game," Pearson said. "(Players) continue to get better and improve their skills. This really is the highest level of soccer."

Geisler exemplifies the improvement Pearson touched on. He has played club soccer since grade school and this season, as a sophomore, scored a team-high 23 goals and had 23 assists for the Gators. That output took up some of the team's scoring slack after forward Greg Howarth was injured.

"With Greg's absence late in the season, Justin's job was to score goals," Pearson said. "He stepped up."

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