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Ekeli has big impact on a small program

When Steve Ekeli left Crystal River High two years ago to become the head coach at Seven Rivers Christian School, he knew there would be an adjustment period.

After all, there are more than just a few differences between coaching at a public school with more than 1,300 students and taking over at a 375-student private Christian school.

Smaller pools of talent to dip into, less time for practice and longer drives to games are obstacles Ekeli has faced.

But not without a little help. Behind the stellar play of Shane LeCouris, Chris Squire and Taylor Swander, the Warriors have a 9-1 record in the first half of their season and are on pace to make a run at the playoffs.

"It is tremendously different," said Ekeli, who came to Seven Rivers in the spring of 2003. "At a public school, kids play soccer for all 12 months, but at a Christian school, I've got kids that go on missionary trips in the summer, I've got a few who are involved with Habitat for Humanity."

Nevertheless, the coach has the Warriors playing well. No one has made more of a difference than LeCouris. The freshman has been the main offensive threat, leading the team in goals (19) and posting four assists. He's scored 11 in the past four games.

"Shane has been a machine over the last few weeks," Ekeli said. "Shane started with us as an eighth-grader after playing a few years, but he didn't really have any tutelage."

Despite the athlete's lack of one-on-one coaching, Ekeli has taken LeCouris' talent and molded him into a new player.

"Shane didn't used to be as aggressive, but he has really added to his game," Ekeli said. "He is solid from both the right and left side, which is rare."

LeCouris wouldn't be the offensive machine he is without help from midfielders Swander and Squire. Swander has 15 assists and three goals. Squire has 12 assists and nine scores. He's among the five fastest players Ekeli has coached.

"His instincts are incredible," Ekeli said. "When we moved him from forward back to midfield early in the season, he was mis-firing a lot. He was a little confused on the field when to get back and support the defense, but after a few games he said it felt like an old shoe."

Seven Rivers has received solid defense from goalie Chad Peets and a supporting cast of Ben Bennet, Tray Bryant, Tucker Cortese, Jon Magill, Connor Snyder and Wes Tubman. Peets has recorded four shutouts so far, including an impressive showing in a 3-0 district win over Oldsmar.

With 13 games remaining, the Warriors are on pace to make the playoffs and finish just in time for Ekeli's guys to move on to the next sport.

"Most public-school kids just play one sport, but at a small Christian school, they play all the sports," he said. "As soon as we walk off the field this year, I have eight guys who will be starting basketball the next day."