Crystal River coach Michael Callaway worried early on that his boys team might struggle when it came to finishing offensive opportunities.
But it didn't take the Pirates (5-0-1, 3-0 district) long to calm that concern. In the first six games of the season, his team outscored the competition 28-1.
"What happened this year is it's not one particular person," Callaway said. "It's more even across. You don't know where the goals are coming from."
In a word, the Pirates are balanced, and that makes them dangerous. What's worse for opponents is they're also solid defensively.
Entering Thursday's game against River Ridge, Crystal River had given up one goal all season, in a 1-all tie with Tampa Catholic.
The Pirates' four defenders - Scotty Hubbard, Sean Mulligan, Jarrod Green and Eric Swanson - protect their turf. Goalkeeper Alex Crandall, who had five shutouts going into Thursday's contest, helps keep the Pirates in games.
Lecanto senior forward Natalie Burnett is tearing up the field with 17 goals, four assists.
"She came back in pretty good shape," coach Kevin Towne said. "When Maggie (Mueller) gets double teamed it leaves her open."
Towne said Burnett opted out of running cross country this fall and was more in "soccer shape" at the start of the season. Mueller, also a senior forward, has racked up six goals, three assists.
Lecanto (5-2-2) has posted five shutouts and tied both Citrus and Pasco 3-all, along with two losses (3-0 to Belleview; 1-0 to Class 5A River Ridge).
Still, Towne thinks the Panthers' best game came in their Wednesday loss to River Ridge. Why?
The shots on goal were pretty even and the young defense, anchored by midfielder turned sweeper, Erin Carpenter, held their own.
Lecanto freshman center midfielder Jamie Good, who did not play Wednesday, will be out several games with a thigh bruise. Instead, junior Lena Ramirez has moved from the right side to the center to help orchestrate the midfield.
Citrus only has one senior, Amber Jordan, but that hasn't stopped the 'Canes (4-3-1) from holding their own.
"They are right where I expected us to be," coach Charlie Gatto said.
The 'Canes' 8-0 win Tuesday over North Marion was a group effort with goals by Jordan, sophomore Erica Stanley, freshman Paige Verity, sophomore Nicole Beaudry and sophomore Nikki Krause.
Gatto said he is trying to build a solid foundation for the coming years with this group.
"We're not rushing to do this," Gatto said. "We're just taking our time to get it right."
Watch and learn
A three-game week isn't anything out of the ordinary for the Crystal River soccer teams, but having the final game of the week on Saturday is a bit strange.
The soccer matches were moved to Saturday because North Marion's football team is still in the playoffs. The boys will kick off at 2 p.m. and the girls game will follow.
That's one of the reasons Crystal River girls coach Bill Reyes gave his team the day off Thursday. He plans to take his 2-7 squad early so the girls team can watch the boys play.
"Hopefully, they'll watch their passing skills, the spacing, moving to open space, finding the open man," Reyes said. "Basically I'm hoping the midfielders can really concentrate on what the boys do and see how their midfield works because the midfield is the key to our passing game, and that has been our toughest hurdle at this point."
The Panthers are 3-2-2 overall and 2-1-1 in district. Lecanto has district wins against Citrus and Dunnellon but a loss to Crystal River and tie with Belleview.
Citrus boys coach Steve Ekeli said the 'Canes' soccer IQ continues to climb as they learn how to posses the ball more to move more effectively. The 'Canes (3-3) haven't posted any shutouts, but did beat Trinity Catholic (3-2), Belleview (3-2) and Dunnellon (4-2).
"Midfielders are starting to see the field better and we are starting to become a better soccer team," Ekeli said.