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Team unity propels Lecanto to impressive start on season

Unique. That's what coach Kevin Towne has called his team all season.

"It is different," Towne said. "Most coaches have at least one clique. I haven't found one on this team; it just flows. I've never had a team like this."

Its uniqueness has propelled the Panthers, 12-2-1 entering today's 6 p.m. game against Dunnellon. It is Towne's best start in 15 years.

While sophomore forwards Maggie Mueller and Natalie Burnett are vital as the leading scorers, the keys to the attack are senior midfielders Jennifer Worthington and Allissa Persavich. Their combined eight-year varsity experience sets up for strong ball distribution. Plus, Persavich's aggressiveness and Worthington's finesse jump-start the offense.

"They don't get all the goals, but they are an integral part of us offensively and defensively," Towne said.

That's on a squad that has allowed only seven goals and scored 55 in 15 games this season. Lecanto's only losses, both 1-0, came against Springstead and Leesburg.

The biggest difference between last year and this? Team unity. With that comes talking, and lots of it. So much that it sounds like a verbal instant message system on the field.

"It just helps that we are all friends," Persavich said. "We have such strong individual talent, and when it comes together, it's amazing. It is a unique season. I've never had a year like this before."

Though Towne can see potential for the making of the 21-4-2 squad he had two years ago, he isn't going to count out any opponent. "You can throw the records out," Towne said. "It's probably the most balanced district I've ever been a part of. There's not a team that couldn't win district. There is no rhyme or reason, but I'd rather have it happen this way because it makes the season more exciting."

Lecanto beat Central twice. Central tied Springstead and Citrus. Springstead defeated the Panthers, and Lecanto is Springstead's only loss this season. The Panthers topped Citrus and tied the Hurricanes. Then Citrus beat Central and Leesburg. Lecanto defeated Southlake. Southlake tied Leesburg, whom gave Lecanto one of its two losses. Crystal River tied Leesburg and turned back Citrus, and Lecanto defeated Crystal River both times, but only 1-0 the second game. Crazy, but true.

Teams are getting better. No matter what, though, the Panthers have exceeded Towne's initial expectations, allowing him to focus on even higher aspirations.

"We want to get back to state," said Towne, who didn't coach a season ago.

"Last year was the first year we didn't make the state playoffs," he said. "This team is good enough to be one of the better teams in the state. They just need to believe they can do it."