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Bucs, Riess better than before?

Two constants have plagued Berkeley Prep in recent seasons: Orangewood Christian School and the absence of Alyssa Riess.

The former is the Orlando school that has escorted the talented Buccaneers out of the playoffs the last three years. The latter is the all-everything midfielder who hasn't played a game since injuring her knee in January 2000. Those constants are about to change, signaling a start of a season in which the Bucs might be the championship squad they appear to be on paper.

"I'm trying to get them to focus on the little things," Berkeley Prep coach Ken Roberts said. "In the past, I'm not sure we were ready for the challenge mentally and physically."

The Bucs were talented enough to finish 21-7-2 a season ago, but stumbled in the Class A regional semifinals, falling 2-0 to Orangewood Christian. The same Orangewood squad that eliminated them 4-2 in 2000 and 1-0 in 1999. That won't be the case this season, at least not in the regional semifinals thanks to reclassification, which moved Orangewood to a new region, putting off any possible postseason meeting between the squads until the title match.

Not that Berkeley Prep is obsessing about having to face Orangewood again. It has more important things to deal with _ like welcoming Riess back to an offense that was potent without her.

"We've had a tremendous amount of talent on offense," said Roberts, whose team lost four starters but returns 12 players. "But we have some deficits on defense. We are looking at different kids back there and quite a few of them are capable of making plays."

The Bucs are solid in goal with returning keeper Collen Kalafut and potent with the ball.

Sophomore forward Cally Stolbach returns from her standout freshman season, and along with junior Sarah Deal and sophomore forward Nikki Lanza, the Bucs have plenty of offensive weapons and are about to reload.

With the return of Riess, the Bucs get a player who netted 33 goals and seven assists in half a season as a sophomore. She then tore a knee ligament and missed the second half of the season. After months of rehabilitation, she injured the same knee playing with her club team and missed her junior season. Riess will play with a brace on her surgically restructured knee.

But will she be the same player she was before? Roberts said no.

"I think she is better than she was before the injury," the coach said of Riess, who has orally committed to Duke. "She has been working hard and she has been watching. I think she has come back seeing the field better and she still has good mobility and can shoot with both feet."

And while Roberts is pleased about the return of his star, he realizes his team cannot just show up and expect to win every game. Especially in the realigned Class A, District 6, which now includes Clearwater Central Catholic, Tampa Catholic, Academy of the Holy Names, Seminole Presbyterian and Tampa Prep.

"Only time will tell what we can do," Roberts said. "It depends if we can bring everything together and what kind of effort the kids play with."