SEMINOLE — Rick Masi has just about seen it all in his 25 years as the Seminole High School boys soccer coach. There have been several near misses at a state championship since he took over in 1993. There was also a state title in 2003.
He knows a playoff team when he sees it. And this year's Seminole team is definitely a playoff team.
"We have a lot of talent and we have a deep bench," Masi said. "If we can stay healthy, and if we have Lady Luck on our side, we should be okay. In this game, the best team doesn't always win. You have to have some luck."
So far, the Warhawks haven't needed much luck. They are 6-0-2 heading into a two-week break for the holidays. They are at the top of Class 4A, District 10 with only district matches against Countryside and Northeast remaining. The Countryside match was supposed to be played last Friday but was postponed due to weather.
Seminole has outscored opponents 39-6, which is part of the reason it is ranked seventh in the state and 24th in the nation, according to MaxPreps.
Leading the way is senior midfielder Kobe Hepburn, who has eight goals to lead a well-balanced scoring attack. Senior forward Diego Wallace isn't far behind with seven goals. Unfortunately, Wallace dislocated his shoulder in a 3-3 tie against East Lake and will be out about another three weeks.
Senior midfielder Justin Colak has five goals. Senior midfielders Tanner Zellmer and Owen Huffman have provided both offense and defense.
The Warhawks have eight seniors, most of whom have been together since their freshman year. Add in the fact that most of them also play club soccer together, and it's easy to see why Seminole is highly regarded and ranked.
"Ever since we got here we thought we would be good, it's just taken some time," Hepburn said. "We were a little disappointed when it didn't happen. But this year we are determined."
Seminole is certainly motivated. The Warhawks won 19 matches last season, but they lost 3-1 to Clearwater in the district semifinal and didn't make it to regionals.
They already have impressive wins over Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg. Their other tie was against Clearwater, which has become their nemesis. Down the road, Seminole will play in the Jesuit holiday tournament in early January and will play Cornerstone Christian (Texas) on Jan. 11.
Masi, 67, knows that the matches in January mean much more than the ones in December. He hopes his team stays intense.
"The toughest thing is to get these kids to stay focused and to stay in the system," Masi said. "They tend to get distracted. They need to be disciplined. I'm sure they will. It really only matters in January."
While there are eight seniors, there are still several underclassmen who have filled out the starting lineup and come off the bench to provide depth.
That puts the Warhawks ahead of most other teams.
It also helps to have the stability of Masi. The players know what he expects and they will surely hear about it if they do something else. Although it may not be as loud as it was in seasons past.
"That's probably because of his age," Zellmer said. "I bet in his younger days he was screaming a lot more."