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Bulls, Cougars vie for district No. 1

Two of the state's premier girls teams collide Friday when Bloomingdale travels to Durant with district seeding on the line.

Little has separated these teams since Durant opened its doors nine years ago and this season is no different.

They share the top of the district standings.

They tied in the first meeting of the season.

They both have a lot on the line Friday.

"It's been a natural rivalry for years," Bloomingdale coach Sue Peet said. "The kids all know each other from the club level and there is pride involved in their high school programs."

Peet, in her 10th season at Bloomingdale, has seen her fair share of Bulls-Cougars rivalries. And while Durant coach Ron Evans is in his first year as head coach, he was an assistant last year and has watched daughter Kellie, a former Cougar and Auburn standout, play against Bulls.

"It's for bragging rights," Evans said. "And that carries over into the summer when they play club."

And while a summer's worth of boasting may be on the line, there is something more important at stake: first place in the district. Both teams are 7-0-1 heading into Friday, with the tie coming against each other earlier this season.

"You don't have to get the team up for (Friday's) game," Evans said. "There is a different focus and attitude when we play Bloomingdale."

Keep an eye on Durant's Gabi Rivera, one of the county's most talented players. Peet said how well the Bulls mark Rivera will be key.

"Gabi is just so dangerous," Peet said.

Bloomingdale will have the services of captain and leading scorer Marissa Kazbor, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing five games with a knee sprain.

RIVALRY, PART II: Though not quite as storied as Bloomingdale-Durant, Friday's meeting between south Tampa rivals Academy of the Holy Names and Tampa Prep offers some intriguing plot twists.

Tampa Prep carried a 3-1 lead into halftime in the last meeting, but the Jaguars answered with three in the second half for the 4-3 win. To make matters worse Kwynn Kirkhuff, one of the Terrapins' top players, went down with an injury during the match.

"It was miserable, horrible, terrible," Tampa Prep coach Pam Smith said about the teams' first meeting.

While the first showdown went to the Jaguars, the Terrapins have added a few wrinkles. Five volleyball players from Tampa Prep's state championship team will be on the field this time around and Kirkhuff has recovered from her knee injury.

With a full roster, Smith said she hopes there is no repeat of last meeting's collapse.

"We flat ran out of gas last time," Smith said. "We're definitely stronger now and in much better condition."

Boys

COMEBACK PLAYER: After 11 losses, Cambridge finally got its first win, 5-1 over Master's Academy on Tuesday in Orlando.

Last season was the Lancers' first in winter soccer, and they began a respectable 4-6-2 before a string of misfortunes. Injuries, transfers and a near-fatal auto accident on Christmas Eve 2003 involving Spencer Brooks sent the team spiraling downward.

Brooks had several surgeries, spent two weeks in intensive care and months in rehab, then amazingly was cleared to play again in August.

According to Lancers coach Kevin Hickinbotham, Brooks has been an inspiration to the team despite its rebuilding season.

"Even though we have not won much this season, we have greatly improved to this point, which is in some way reflected in Spencer's leadership and presence," Hickinbotham said.

"The fact that Spencer is alive is a testament to God's grace, love and healing power. That he is playing soccer again is a miracle."

SCORING WATCH: Berkeley Prep's Tyler Davis scored his 100th career goal in a win over Northside Christian on Tuesday. He leads the county with 29 goals this season.

The Buccaneers boys and girls teams received the Team Academic Award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) for 2004.

LOGJAM: Freedom helped break the logjam atop Class 4A, District 11 by beating Tampa Bay Tech 1-0 Tuesday on Brian Watson's penalty kick.

The Patriots (6-1) swept the season series with the Titans (6-2), handing them their only two losses. Freedom has a big showdown with Newsome on Jan. 11. The Wolves (6-1) gave Freedom its only loss, however, they lost to Tech earlier.

_ BRANDON WRIGHT, JEREMY RASMUSSEN, Times correspondents

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