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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

New faces dot Sharks', Eagles' rosters

Hernando Today correspondent


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Attrition in the form of commencement exercises and injuries has taken a toll on Hernando County's two top girls soccer programs from last winter.

Last season was extra special for Nature Coast Technical.

The Lady Sharks set school records for most wins (18), most goals scored (98) and longest non-losing streak (14 matches, featuring 13 wins and one tie), while securing their first-ever district championship (Class 3A, District 6).

The NCT booters threatened to reset the Hernando County mark for least goals allowed before permitting 13. The county record for least amount of goals against is eight by the 1994-95 Springstead Lady Eagles under John Bifulco.

Head coach Lisa Masserio's crew became the first Hernando County club in 23 seasons to reach the regional finals - one win shy of the Final Four.

Last June's graduation ceremonies, however, cost the Lady Sharks eight seniors, including six starters.

Most distressing was the loss of firepower. Seventy of NCT's 98 goals - or 71 percent - turned the tassels on their mortar boards.

Included in the departure were the No. 2 scorers in school history: Emily Myers and Silvana Paonessa (53 career goals apiece). The school's all-time scorer is Jaleesa Scott (76 goals).

Another potential returning starter, junior Makenzie Cummings, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear and is out for the season.

Masserio's fifth edition is leaning on four returning starters, all seniors, goalie Samantha Oliveira, midfielder Kendal Worden, forward Hailey Lalande and defender Rosie Witherell.

Lalande enters the season with 24 career goals and is expected to be joined up top by sophomore Chelsea Reid (seven goals), junior Brittany Bowman (one goal) and frosh Jayna Tyner.

NCT also lost key performers in midfielder Ashley Chevalier, and defenders Briana Baugher and Victoria Wall - all three of them were All-County selections.

"What we miss most from last year is the team's experience," noted Masserio, who enters 50-23-9 lifetime, "and the way the seniors led the team. That group grew up a lot in four years. It was my first four-year class, so they're very special to me.

"Last year's mantra was not to be complacent; this year's is not to be intimidated."

On NCT's expectations, "We have six seniors and they'll set the tone," explained Masserio, who is the county's defending Coach of the Year. "Not all of them are returning starters, but we have to rely on their experience. A lot of these kids were role players for us last year, now they're more featured players."

On whether the Lady Sharks can approach last winter's success, "The girls are excited. We think we're reloading, not rebuilding," detailed Masserio. "We realize it won't be smooth sailing. Hopefully, last year's success will help us this time. The ultimate goal remains the same: to compete for a district championship."

After dropping a pair of preseason matches to Lecanto (3-0) and Wiregrass Ranch (3-2), "We brought a few extra players just see how a few of them would react," Masserio said. "The greatest value was we played 100 percent better in the second game against Wiregrass than the first. We got a lot of those, 'Oh my God' jitters out of the way."

Masserio made it crystal clear this year's defense can't live in the past.

"I'm not asking our girls to be Ashley (Chevalier) or Briana (Baugher) or Victoria (Wall). Those three kids were hardcore fast, so we prepared to our strengths," noted Masserio. "This year is a different crew. Sam (Oliveira) and Rose (Witherell) are anchoring our defense."

On forecasting the county, "I don't want to underestimate anyone," said Masserio. "Right now, we're only as good as what we do on the field."

The 3A-7 Tournament will be held in January at Shark Tank Stadium.

In crystal-balling the nine-team race, "It's a big district," pointed out Masserio. "Because we chose to play two district games with every one that means we'll be playing almost three games a week for the first couple of months.

"I don't think you can overlook the Pasco County teams, Hudson and Fivay, they've got a lot of young talent," added Masserio. "And I believe there are two great Hernando County teams (NCT and Springstead)."

"Nature Coast will be successful if we're contending for a district championship," stressed Masserio. "We want to go back (to the title game)."

???After a turbulent 10-9-1 campaign in 2011-12, Springstead mentor Scott Wern began to right the ship last winter as the Lady Eagles bounced back with a fine 17-5-1 slate.

In Wern's second season, the Mariner Boulevard crew claimed its 16th Hernando County championship and reached the 4A-4 final, losing to Lecanto (1-0).

The Spring Hill booters graduated seven seniors including Tara Vasquez (26 goals), two-year goalie Emma Betters, and three defensive starters: Kirsten Penny, Kayla Montealegre and Renee Wern.

Betters, Montealegre and Penny were all 2012-13 All-County selections.

Offseason injuries have decimated the Lady Eagles. Three potential starters, sophomores Samantha Betters and Alex Cubillo and junior Alex Piesek, will all open the season in street clothes due to ACL tears.

According to Coach Wern, only Betters - the county's defending Player of the Year - may be back for districts. Her injury occurred six months ago.

Betters not only led the circuit in goals (46), but in assists (23) and points scored (115).

Last year's Lady Eagle team reset a county standard for goals in a season (115), breaking Springstead's old mark of 1993-94 (113). Similar to NCT, SHS will open minus 78 goals - or 68 percent of last year's offensive total.

Despite a gloomy injury report, Coach Wern expects to lean on three returning starters - all All-County players in 2012-13: senior forward Nicole Morolla, junior midfielder Erin Blackwell and senior midfielder Haleigh McDuff. Both Morolla and McDuff are two-time All-County selections.

Despite the influx of fresh faces, unlike NCT, Springstead posted a pair of preseason victories at Tarpon Springs over Clearwater (2-1) and the host Spongers (4-3).

Against Tarpon Springs, the Lady Eagles rallied after being down, 2-0.

"We learned we've still got to address some things on defense," noted Wern. "Offensively, we did a lot of great things. We had a lot of good first touches. We've got a set lineup."

On what Wern expects, he said, "Last year, we relied on winning games with Tara (Vasquez) and Sammy (Betters). This time around, we're leaning on the entire team."

On SHS' assets, "Nicole and Haleigh are our captains," said Wern. "They work so well together."

Offensively, Wern believes sophomore Madison Nelski and athletic frosh Kimberly Gibson will complement Morolla, McDuff and Blackwell.

According to Wern, "Look for freshman Sasha Garcia to turn heads. She's going to surprise some people."

Peering into his defense, "These kids are coachable. They do everything they're told, that's a big difference from the past," acknowledged Wern. "I think within three games, we'll have our defense locked down."

Of Springstead's eight new starters, junior Jenna Booth moves up to varsity goalkeeper, replacing Emma Betters.

"She played two years between the pipes on JV," noted Wern. "She had six saves against Clearwater last week. This is her time to shine. Right now, she has to work on being more vocal."

Predicting the 3A-7 race, "I like it because our county is our district," said Wern. "I see two Hernando County teams in the district finals (Springstead and NCT). I heard Citrus lost quite a few of their best kids and both Hudson and Fivay will be teams to keep an eye on."

"Overall, this is a young team and we lack (varsity) experience," emphasized Wern. "But this group is hungry. The kids know the expectations of this program. We don't run an entitlement program. Just because you're a senior doesn't mean anything. You're going to see a bunch of freshmen in the starting lineup every night."

???Hernando skipper Rick Ahrens begins his 15th season attempting to snap the Lady Leopards' nine-year slide. HHS finished 2012-13 at 7-12-4.

The Purple and Gold lost 10 lettermen from last year's roster, including eight seniors.

Six of last year's eight seniors were starters.

Nine returning lettermen are back including the team's biggest hopes - their leading scorers - junior Erika Lewis (12 goals), senior Summer Solovitch (six goals, team-best 15 assists), and sophomores Aliviah Green (five goals) and Ruth Babione (four goals).

On his team's great concerns, "It's the Brooksville curse on first touching the ball and getting our pockets picked," pointed out Ahrens, who is 84-179-32 lifetime. "We had a tremendous amount of kids come out, but a lot of them brought bad habits that we need to break."

In easing past the previous dilemmas at midfield, the Lady Leopards will incorporate more of a 4-5-1 alignment, "Our first touch is weak and we've got to mark better," said Ahrens.

Defensively, Ahrens indicates that sophomore Kaitlin Wilkes and Babione will help overlap with Solovitch.

HHS' new goalie is a transfer from Fivay, Nicole Sullivan.

"Sullivan can play anywhere on the field," noted Ahrens. "The plan is to eventually utilize (freshman) Ashley (King) in goal and move Sullivan on to the field."

As far the teams to beat in 3A-7, "A lot will depend on injuries and discipline," admitted Ahrens. "At the end, I see two Hernando County teams in the final. Right now, I'd say we're in the 4-5 seed range, but you never know."

On the keys to a successful season, "We have to play mistake-free," said Ahrens. "And just play fundamental ball. This group is athletic, but they've got some bad habits we've got to take care of."

Central High's 20th season wasn't for scrapbooks.

The Lady Bears, who utilized their sixth different coach in five years, finished 1-12-0 overall.

Besides scoring the least amount of goals in school history (10), the Lady Bears surrendered 80 goals for the first time since allowing 85 in skipper Robert Schenck's second season in 1999-00.

CHS lost seven lettermen from last year's roster, including four seniors.

Of their three leading scorers - Gina Gonzalez, Karissa DiMuccio and Lyndsey Palma (who each scored two goals) - only Gonzalez is back. DiMuccio graduated and Palma is out for the season due to an ACL tear.

Eleven lettermen are back for Coach Ken Brening's second season, including seven returning starters.

Back in the fold includes: junior goalie Jenna Barbee, senior Dakota McFarland, junior Mackenzy Campbell, and sophomores Courtney Brening and Emily York, all midfielders. Campbell and York are the team captains.

Unlike last winter when Coach Brening had "only 9-10 players show up to practice every day", the Lady Bears have 26 fresh faces to join the roster.

"It's a young team overall," described Coach Brening. "Our seniors weren't real competitive kids, but our underclassmen are."

In propping up a sluggish offense, "Campbell was thrown to the wolves last year," recalled Brening. "She and York will be much better with the addition of freshman striker Ashley Medina. I see Skylar Hayward helping us, too; she's very competitive."

Stabilizing the midfield will be the task for Courtney Brening, Medina and Gabi Tinari. Tinari returns to the team after not playing last season.

Brening, who is being assisted by former CHS head coach Amy Ellis, says his team's biggest concern is, "We've got to control the game. Too many games got out of control too fast last year."

To that end, CHS' new-look defense features frosh sweeper Mya Nobinette, York at stopper and Regina Sameri and Kaitlyn Kibby rotating at right defender, and Barbee between the pipes.

On who'll play in the 3A-7 title game, "That's a hard one," said Brening. "Both Springstead and Nature Coast have strong teams, but neither is the same team as last year. Right now, I think we should be mid-pack. We're hoping to play the third seed."

On the seasonal outlook, "It's nice to have 26 girls in practice," noted Brening. "It's so different than last year. Having this many girls gives us a lot more options. I think we can control the games a little better.

"At this point, we have small goals. We're not in a position to win districts, so have to take small steps to get there."

Weeki Wachee followed up its 0-16-0 slate in 2011-12 with a 0-16-1 mark last fall.

The Lady Hornets graduated six seniors including one of their two leading scorers, Lauren Burns (two goals).

On the Lady Hornets' prospects this winter, third-year mentor Kim Jones said, "I will let the season speak this year for WWHS."

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