Another sports season, another round of “new stuff”.
From fall into winter, football morphs into basketball and volleyball shifts into soccer. Speaking of soccer, the county’s eight public programs are now in four new districts across three classes. Here’s the new groupings:
District 6A-6: Osceola, Celebration, Cypress, Freedom, Haines City, Ridge
District 5A-9: St. Cloud, Poinciana, Liberty, Tohopekaliga, East River, New Smyrna Beach
District 5A-12: Harmony, South Fork, Sebastian River, Melbourne, Viera, Martin County
District 4A-5: Gateway, Deltona, Pine Ridge, Jones, Lake Minneola
Like in volleyball, teams aren’t mandated to play each district foe in the regular season, as the district tournament seedings will be set by the MaxPreps computer rankings.
And like the volleyball Orange Belt Conference tournament, the county will do the same for its in-season event. In fact, the boys teams, at the agreement of its coaches, held its OBC tournament last week based on the rankings from last season. The result? Celebration, which had dominated county play the past three years, did not make it an OBC four-peat, losing to Harmony in penalty kicks in the semifinals after playing to a 2-2 draw. The Storm went on to take third place over St. Cloud, also in penalty kicks.
Penalty kicks were a theme of the OBC tournament. Osceola, who advanced to the championship game with a 5-3 win over St. Cloud thanks to a hat trick from Christian Aragon, played the Longhorns to PK after a 1-1 draw through regulation and overtime. Striker Cody Huff put Harmony up in the 10th minute, but Aragon tied it before halftime. Despite playing the match’s final 17 minutes a man down, the Longhorns fought to the draw and goalkeeper Kevin Lavigne provided two saves in PKs as well as the game-winning goal to cap the victory.
Coach Brett Ballard’s team looks to rebound from a 6-11 year. Huff and midfielders Matthew Espinosa, Carson Weis and Carlos Rodriguez and backs Bennett Forsberg and Gilbert Figueroa all return.
“This is a solid team with a lot of experience, we have built off of last year’s runner up in OBC with only losing two seniors,” Ballard said. “The versatility of the guys is our biggest strength and they can adapt to any system we face throughout the year. We are in a new district this year which puts us up against Brevard schools including powerhouse programs such as Melbourne and Viera. But if we want to be the best, we have to beat the best and the guys have responded well.”
Celebration, which also has back-to-back state Final 4 appearances on the resume, and while the Storm have several big pairs of cleats to fill, they’ll still be a force locally.
“It’ll be hard to replicate what we have done in the past two seasons. Last year we scored 90 goals and 60 of them were from three of our seniors (Luis Mora, Matheus Machado, Fernando Abreu, all now logging play time as college freshmen),” Coach Chad Boudreaux said. “It was real easy for us to turn to one or a few players and let them take the game over. We are going to need the full collective to step up and play together to accomplish our goals this year. We had a preview of that when we played Harmony, in the last 15 minutes of the game you can see what we can do as a team if we play together.”
Nick Romano, Gabe Pinheiro and Edward Galindo, important role players a year ago, will be the leaders up front. Newcomer Wilmer Garay has chipped in three goals in the Storm’s first four games. Defensive stopper Oscar Newman returns, as go goalies Horacio Parisi and Jonathan Deer.
The Storm schedule is a Who’s-Who: district foes Freedom and Cypress Creek, Lakewood Ranch, Lake Highland Prep and Vero Beach dot the lineup.
Tohopekaliga builds off a 6-12 season, but four of the wins came within the county. Now the Tigers are (finally) playing at home on campus.
And Coach Eddie Fernandez isn’t shying away from anyone this year; his schedule also has Bishop Moore, Lake Mary, Lake Highland, Freedom, Lakewood Ranch and Montverde.
“I do believe in my team’s capability and drive to win, going up against these schools,” he said. “We have (new) kids, especially freshman, that have already impacted our varsity team like, Adrian Nunez, Gustavo Casanova, and Sophomore Sebastian Quijano.”
But it’s his seniors, like Carlos Jiminez, Jean Batista, and Will Johnson who will lead this team.
Expect St. Cloud to show some might this year, with scoring punch from Anderson Agudelo, Jack Baillie and Fabrizio Lucia. Senior goalkeeper Noah Craig is a force in the back. Osceola has Aragon and Ezequiel Rabelo to get the ball in the net,
Gateway, coached by Sagar Patel, has posted shutout wins over Liberty and Poinciana in the last week. The Chargers beat Gateway, 4-1, in an OBC tourney game to snag sixth place.
Girls soccer: Harmony, St. Cloud looking strong again
Harmony’s been the dominant force in the OBC and their district the last three years, beating St. Cloud in either the district finals or semifinals, but now they’re in different districts, so they can both win.
The girls will play their OBC tournament in mid-January.
Harmony girls should be competitive again, even after graduating 11 seniors. Jenna Butcofksi, who just signed with Florida Gulf Coast University, and sophomore Reinna Scott should do the heavy lifting for the offense while three-year starting goalie Angie Santos and sophomore Erin Jones will help anchor the defense. Newcomers Shayna Augusma (from Miami) and Victoria Suarez (New Jersey) could add punch to the offense.
With the new MaxPreps scheduling, the Longhorns are like other locally-competitive squads: the schedule might be the toughest one in Harmony history, with nine playoff teams from last year.
“Moving to a new district will also be tough as we move to a district with perennial powers Melbourne and Viera,” HHS Coach Scott Marlega said.
St. Cloud Coach Shawn Beck said his team’s dealing with some injuries, but the Bulldogs have opened the season 5-0 after tying Rockledge in the preseason.
The defense is solid with goalie Krystal Cruz-Torres and backs Madelyn Barthle and Nicole Longmore. Seniors Hanna Archibald and Ellie Schmidt, junior Zabrina Hellmer and sophomore Leilani Wei can control a midfield.
“We also have a strong group of freshmen as well, which is exciting. We’re excited about our chances and pleased with the hard work the team’s putting in,” Beck said.
The Bulldogs and Longhorns play at Harmony Dec. 13 in a likely preview of the OBC title match.