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Eagles look for quick turnaround

They're not the words coaches usually like to throw around before the district tournament.

Regroup. Refocus. Poor play.

Unfortunately for Brandon coach Allen Ware, those words dominate his vocabulary these days when he describes his team.

One year removed from the most successful season in school history, the Eagles find themselves wobbling into the Class 5A, District 8 tournament at King. Anyone who wants to see how much a difference a year can make on a high school soccer team need look no further than Brandon.

Last year it finished the regular season with a 2-all tie against Bloomingdale in a hard fought game which saw the Eagles outshoot the Bulls 16-11. It was the beginning of a run through the district and region tournaments that wouldn't end until Brandon won the Class 2A championship.

This year the Eagles again finished their regular season with a match against Bloomingdale. The 4-0 loss was one thing, but the style of play _ "poor" according to Ware _ and the way the team handled itself during the game was another.

"There's a lot of bickering going on right now," Ware said. "We just need to get everybody on the same page. It's not like we have a bad record. It just happens. We have to get over the hump."

Brandon is 13-4-4 and enters districts with a bye. It needs one win to advance to regions.

Typically, that's the kind of situation that would inspire confidence in a coach. That's not necessarily the case with Ware.

"It could just be me," he said. "I've been more optimistic this year when usually I'm not at all. I like to go into things cautiously."

The biggest difference from last year to this is the Eagles' lack of leadership.

Last season's leaders were Mike Guess and Jason Poole, seniors who played all four years. It was they who instilled confidence _ and sometimes fear _ in their teammates. Whether it was practice or a game, Poole and Guess set the tone.

That wasn't more apparent than in the region semifinal game when Brandon was outplayed by Palmetto. As time wound down, Poole and Guess stepped up their game, scored to push it to overtime and then held on as the Eagles won.

It's performances like those that Brandon is missing this year.

"It all started with Jason Poole," Ware said. "Whether he was the right kind of leader or not, the kids respected him. He had that attitude about him. I was hoping some others would step up this year. I need them to look at it as a team instead of a bunch of individuals."

That was the focus at practice Thursday and Friday, and it's what Ware was hoping players would concentrate on while waiting for the winner of the Plant-Middleton game. After all, like Ware said, if something doesn't change, the Eagles face an embarrassing situation.

"I don't want to be one of those defending state champions who goes home during the district tournament," Ware said.