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Teams to rely on fresh faces

It's like starting over for Kristi Mule.

The 23-year-old Hernando High coach was there as a player when Rick Ahrens began the Leopards program in 1993, even scored the program's first goal and went on to be a state all-star.

Now, after Ahrens' second retirement as Leopards coach, she embarks on her first head coach job by attempting to rebuild a program that has suffered through a string of lean seasons.

"This is the beginning," Mule said. "I kind of look at it as a clean slate, starting something new here."

The advancement of girls soccer the past decade has lessened the need to teach basic fundamentals, Mule said.

"It's a totally different ballgame now," she said. "They actually have a lot more talent than when we started.

"When I played, they had never played soccer before. Now they come in with experience and try to do their best."

A year after a two-win season, that will suffice for now, although the Leopards walloped West Port 8-0 in their opener.

"My biggest thing is dedication to the game and having the heart to play," Mule said.

"If you're not talented, fine, but if you're working and trying to get better, I see that as much more of a win than anything."

Mule will be judged not only by her record, but by the Leopards' style of play. Deserved or not, depending on the thigh of the beholder, Hernando has a reputation among area coaches as borderline aggressive and beyond.

"I hope we're physical, but I hope we can get rid of that name tag," she said.

"That's not something I teach, to go out there and be bullies. But it's a physical game and you have to be physical."

Over at Springstead, coach Randy Strat doesn't have to be told this is a physical game. He lost All-Hernando/Citrus defender Cyndee Cason to a knee injury suffered during club season.

The loss has forced a major reshuffling for the district champions that brings Brittany Exum into Cason's sweeper spot and Elizabeth LaBella back from midfield to defense.

Oh, and then there's that issue of a first-time goalkeeper. Central transfer Whitney Nissen never had played goalkeeper before a preseason "crash course" but shut out Citrus 3-0 in the opener.

"She wants to play the position and she came out and said, "I will do what you need me to do,' " Strat said.

At Central, what coach Hank Deslaurier needs is for freshman Jalessa Scott to score goals.

The third-year Bears coach has proclaimed she will lead the county in scoring because of her impressive speed. Another threat would be a welcome addition to forward Christie Cullen, who led the Bears with 12 goals last season.

Brant James can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407. Send e-mail to brantsptimes.com.

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