Central High and Springstead simultaneously ascended to state-level contender status in boys soccer last season when the Bears won a district title and advanced to the region semifinals, and the Eagles succumbed in the finals to the same Merritt Island team.
Each returns a bevy of experienced, playoff-hardened talents, but they could be at a crossroads.
Whereas Springstead soldiers on with a corps group of largely anonymous system players, Central must cope with the loss of arguably the best boys player ever _ midfielder Sean O'Sullivan, who had 27 goals, 21 assists _ a large chunk of its central defense and its long-time coach, John Andruss.
"We have a lot of boys back with experience," Springstead coach Sal Calabrese said. "If we possess the ball and knock it around, we should be in business.
"Now, can we take it to the next level? I don't like to put anything ahead of schedule, because it's early, but this team could do very well," Calabrese said.
Robert Hoki, a 54-year-old Citrus County youth coach, expects the same from Central.
But the first three weeks of his high school career have been about blending his philosophy with the one that won 18 games last season. "I think that the tendency is there to think that we did well last year, so we will do well this year," he said.
Replacing O'Sullivan's scoring and playmaking will be difficult, but the Bears have candidates in junior George Kirshy (19 goals, eight assists) and Tim Woods, a dogged defender who chipped in six goals and nine assists.
A tougher issue will be fortifying the middle, where midfielder Woods, sweeper Eric Walasek and defender Aaron Roth must replicate an effort by O'Sullivan, Carlos Rodriguez, back Dave Pointec and goaltender Mike Dye that allowed a goal per game.
Springstead's greatest loss likely will be on defense also, where Mike Sullivan led a defense that allowed, on average, 3.72 shots per game last season.
Unlike Central, Springstead returns its keeper in Dan Calabrese, a three-year starter who produced a 0.83 goals-against average last season.
Greg Emmerman and Jordan Magrini return as the team's leading goal scorers, 11 and nine respectively, and the modest totals are welcomed by Calabrese.
"I'd rather have what we have than a 40-goal guy who disappears (by graduating)," he said.
"These guys have been here and been through the system, so if we can get little contributions from a bunch of people, we should be okay."
_ Brant James can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407. Send e-mail to brantsptimes.com.