WHAT: Class 4A-9.
SCHEDULE: Monday _ Springstead (No. 2 seed) vs. Clermont East Ridge (7), 6 p.m.; Lecanto (1) vs. Groveland South Lake (8), 8 p.m. Tuesday _ Central (4) vs. Citrus (5), 6 p.m.; Leesburg (3) vs. Crystal River (6), 8 p.m. Wednesday _ Springstead/East Ridge winner vs. Leesburg/Crystal River winner, 6 p.m.; Lecanto/South Lake winner vs. Central/Citrus winner, 8 p.m. Friday _ Championship, 7 p.m.
UP NEXT: The two finalists advance to the playoffs, which begin Feb. 12. The district champion will host a first-round game. The runner-up goes on road.
TEAM TO WATCH: Lecanto. The top-seeded Panthers are off to the best start in school history at 19-0-1, 13-0-1 in the district. They easily claimed the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title along the way and enter this week's tournament with a 10-game winning streak. How has Lecanto done it? With balance. The defense has allowed 76 shot attempts and 13 goals. The Panthers have 10 shutouts, and only three opponents have found the net more than once. The unit's top players have been keeper Chris Thomashunis, sweeper Sean O'Hare, stopper Jeremy Cox and outside defenders Nick Burns, Kevin Griffin and Darren Kopera. "They do everything that we ask them to do," coach Doug Warren said. "And that allows us to push the ball up and work on our offense." The offense has been equally good. Behind forward Kyle Davis, the Panthers might have the district's most formidable scoring attack. He leads Lecanto with 26 goals. But here's an equally compelling statistic: Davis has attempted 98 shots. In other words, he's constantly putting pressure on the opponent. "He has only one thought on his mind, and that's to score," Warren said. "He attacks the defense and shoots." Davis is in good company. Center-mid Josh McKenna and forward Matt Thomashunis have double-digit goal totals. Thomashunis is tops on the squad in assists. "I think we have a good, solid team that has the potential to do very well in the district," Warren said. "I expect to be playing Friday night." Citrus and Crystal River might be sleepers. The Hurricanes, led by forward Matt Steelfox (23 goals), center-mid Chris Gatto (12 goals, 10 assists) and forward Billy Hon (10 goals), are 1-1 against quarterfinal opponent Central. Crystal River started slow thanks largely to injuries but played better down the stretch. The Pirates play Leesburg, a team they defeated 3-1 last week. Leesburg won the first meeting 2-0 and outshot Crystal River 22-5. Springstead (15-1-2) is the team most likely to challenge Lecanto. The Eagles tied Lecanto in one meeting and have home-field advantage for the tourney.
_ KEITH NIEBUHR, JOHN SCHWARB