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The ultimate goal(keeper)

Brandi Paquette could have pitched a fit. She could have got off that bus in the Countryside High parking lot and started walking home to Seminole by herself.

Who would blame her? Seminole coach Steve Kuplicki had just announced the starting lineup for the first game of the 1999-2000 season and Paquette, a sophomore goalkeeper, was beaten out by a freshman.

And it's not as if this was some hotshot freshman. It was her sister, Nikki, for goodness sake.

"I wasn't mad or anything," Brandi said. "I was proud of her. I'd played since I was 7 and I really didn't want to play anymore. I'm still part of the team (as a manager). I try to help (Nikki) out, but she gets mad at me when I give her advice. I'm not just saying this because she's my sister, but she's the most athletic goalkeeper I've ever seen."

Nikki Paquette has been hearing those kinds of reviews ever since that first night at Countryside. She made an immediate impact her freshman season, helping the Warhawks advance to the regional tournament.

She also made some key saves in the final of the Palm Harbor University Hurricane Watch tournament against Countryside, a 3-2 penalty-kick win.

"I remember that game the most," Nikki said. "I made some saves on penalty kicks. Everybody dog-piled on top of me after the game."

Paquette had another solid season last year as Seminole advanced to the regional semifinals before losing to Land O'Lakes. She allowed one goal against district opponents last season.

Kuplicki, now in his 14th season, compares Paquette to standout keepers Kathan Gillman and Lisa Montgomery, who played in the late '80s and early '90s.

"She's as good as any goalkeeper I've had here," Kuplicki said. "With most high school goalkeepers, you can shoot high and score almost all the time. But Nikki can go up and get those shots. She needs a little work on the low shots and covering the post, but she's very athletic and can make up for mistakes sometimes."

Paquette started playing soccer when she was 7 in Daytona Beach where she was a star forward on her club team.

During a practice, Paquette tried playing goalkeeper. A coach spotted her and asked her if she wanted to play keeper full time. She hasn't looked back.

"I like being aggressive," Paquette said. "I like the way you can be a little rough and knock into people. I like diving around."

The Paquettes moved to Seminole during Nikki's eighth-grade year. She started playing for the Largo Wolves club team and has been playing there ever since.

But now her focus is on the high school season. Seminole has a talented and experienced team and should once again advance to regionals. Paquette thinks the sky's the limit.

"Personally, one of my goals is to not allow a goal in the district this season," she said. "As a team, we're always thinking about the state tournament. We were close last season. We'd like to do it this season."

FOR THE FANS

ADMISSION: Most schools charge $3.

REGULAR SEASON: The season began Monday and continues through Jan. 25. District tournaments begin the week of Jan. 28. Regional tournaments are Feb. 7-15. The state tournament is Feb. 21-23. Schools may play no more than 28 games in the regular season, which includes all games played in regular-season tournaments.

KEY DATES: Nov. 15: East Lake at Countryside (rivalry with district implications); Nov. 28: Seminole at St. Petersburg (battle for district supremacy); Dec. 3-7: PHU Hurricane Watch Tournament; Dec. 17-20: Osceola Tournament; Jan. 9: PHU at Countryside (Gabby Farkasfalvy vs. former team); Jan. 19: CCC at Tampa Catholic (big district game); Jan. 21-25: PCAC Tournament.

PLAYOFFS: The district tournament champion and runner-up advance to the regional playoffs. There are three rounds of regional playoffs. The winners of each regional (four teams in each class) advance to the state tournament.

CLASSIFICATIONS: Schools are divided by enrollment into four classifications ranging from the largest schools in Class 4A to the smallest in Class A.

WHAT'S NEW: Districts have once again been realigned. Pinellas Park is in Class 4A and must travel to Bradenton and Sarasota. Lakewood, Osceola and Tarpon Springs travel to Brandon and Tampa. CCC is the lone area school in A-6. The state tournament has moved from Tampa's Pepin-Rood Stadium to the new Ed Radice Sports Complex in north Tampa, near the Citrus Town Center.

_ Compiled by Rodney Page.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

GABBY FARKASFALVY, Sr., F, Countryside: A transfer from Palm Harbor University, Farkasfalvy is a proficient scorer. She led the Hurricanes with 53 goals last season and will be counted on to do the same for the Cougars.

LIBBY GIANESKIS, So., M, Tarpon Springs: A highly skilled player who started as a freshman. She was sidelined three weeks with a knee injury but has fully recovered. Gianeskis is surrounded by a talented cast and should be able to increase her goal and assist totals.

JESSICA HALLGREN, Jr., F, CC Catholic: Hallgren had 24 goals and 28 assists to lead the Marauders last season. She has played since her freshman season, so experience will be a factor. It doesn't hurt being surrounded by other capable scorers, such as Apryl Wall and Sarah Sheehan.

ERIKA JOHNSON, Sr., G, Largo: A Times first-team all-county selection last season, Johnson is capable of keeping the Packers in every game. An aggressive keeper, Johnson is adept at cutting off angles and making saves.

NIKKI PAQUETTE, Jr., G, Seminole: A starter since her freshman year, Paquette is an aggressive and athletic keeper. She allowed only one goal against district opponents last season. She's also a member of the Largo Wolves under-17 club team.

DISTRICT BREAKDOWN

CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 6

TEAMS: Pinellas Park (1-12-1), Bradenton Manatee, Sarasota Riverview, Sarasota, Venice

OUTLOOK: Good luck, Patriots. Sarasota has been a state power the past few seasons and Manatee is no slouch, either. Pinellas Park is led by Natalie Houchins, Aimee Durham, Cindy Bennett and Jocelyn Rivera.

CLASS 3A, DISTRICT 11

TEAMS: Clearwater (4-10-1), Countryside (13-10), Dunedin (3-9-1), East Lake (15-3-1), Largo (8-10-1), Palm Harbor University (23-3-2)

OUTLOOK: The Hurricanes are young but competitive. Defender Kelly Kuenning is a spectacular player. The Cougars gained forward Gabby Farkasfalvy, who transferred from PHU. Largo will be in most games thanks to keeper Erika Johnson. Dunedin is led by Erin Morris and Nicole Boekenoogen.

CLASS 3A, DISTRICT 12

TEAMS: Boca Ciega (4-8-3), Dixie Hollins (0-14-1), Gibbs (5-10), Northeast (4-10-1), St. Petersburg (17-4-1), Seminole (20-5)

OUTLOOK: The Warhawks can do some damage this season. Brandi Herrmann graduated, but coach Steve Kuplicki feels his team is more versatile this season. St. Petersburg should be right on the Warhawks' heels.

CLASS 2A, DISTRICT 9

TEAMS: Lakewood (14-4-1), Osceola (14-12-2), Tarpon Springs (14-7), Blake, Brandon, Jefferson, Jesuit, Robinson, Tampa Bay Tech

OUTLOOK: Area coaches loooove this district. Nothing like long bus rides to Brandon and Blake on a school night. Osceola will feel the graduation of Michelle Mione. Tarpon Springs could be the best team in the area. Seniors Lisa Johnson, Jessica Moore and Julia Babcock lead the way.

CLASS A, DISTRICT 6

TEAMS: Clearwater Central Catholic (19-2), Academy of the Holy Names, Berkeley Prep, Seminole Presbyterian, Tampa Catholic, Tampa Prep

OUTLOOK: CCC is a perennial choice as the district champion, but this season will be a challenge. The Marauders are loaded with talent, such as Nicole Matuska, Apryl Wall and Sarah Sheehan. But Berkeley Prep has Alyssa Riess and a talented cast and Tampa Catholic is always tough.

CLASS A, DISTRICT 7

TEAMS: Keswick Christian (N/A), Northside Christian (4-9), St. Petersburg Catholic (13-8-1), Shorecrest (9-5-2), Bradenton Academy, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy, Bradenton Saint Stephen's, Sarasota Christian

OUTLOOK: St. Petersburg Catholic and Shorecrest are already off to fast starts with wins on opening night. Chea Harwood and Lena Mullaney lead the Barons while Laura Sibley leads Shorecrest.

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