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Young Eagles are up to challenging year

Several key defensive positions are manned by freshmen.

The goal-keeping spot has been a revolving door, with the best of the bunch sidelined for weeks with torn thumb ligaments.

A number of seniors graduated from last year's playoff squad, and a starting junior moved out of state shortly after this year began.

Sounds like a recipe for a lost season.

Instead, try a 12-1-2 record with a No. 1 district seed already in the bag.

Make no mistake, Springstead's girls were not projected to be bad, but even coach Randy Strat admits that going into mid-January with one loss was not exactly what he had in mind given a team with youth and a few bumps in the road.

"The girls have exceeded my expectations a little bit," Strat said. "Their work is starting to show up in the way they're playing.

"I knew with hard work that the girls could be in the top two (in Class 4A, District 9)," he said. "I'm kind of surprised we're the No. 1 seed."

The results are convincing. The Eagles' lone loss was 4-0 to Lecanto, nearly two months ago in the fourth game of the season.

Springstead avenged that defeat with a 1-0 win at Lecanto on Dec. 13. Two games prior to that was a 1-1 tie with Citrus, but the Eagles answered that game as well with a 5-3 victory at Citrus last week.

Within the county, Springstead has beaten Hernando 4-1 and 6-0 (the shutout coming last Friday), defeated Nature Coast 9-0 with another meeting left and has gone 1-0-1 against Central.

All of this has happened with proven offense in sophomore forward Angela Passafaro (20 goals, 13 assists) and junior midfielder Ashley Johns (12 assists), among other scorers, but with a young defense that includes freshmen Jackie Holtje (at sweeper) and Camielle Cruz (left defender).

"I don't think age matters," Holtje said. "We're a young team, but we're one of the most skilled teams."

Passafaro has been slowed at times with a bad ankle, but if she returns healthy for districts along with keeper Amber Collard, Springstead will be favored to win.

The Eagles failed last year with the top seed but this season will get an opening-round bye (the district has seven squads instead of eight). Second-seeded Lecanto, Central (No. 3) and Citrus (No. 4) may have to tussle with one another before getting to Springstead.

"We'll let everyone else beat each other up," Strat said.

The Eagles should be lurking in the end, already having overcome their own obstacles.