East Lake found itself on the cusp of greatness last season.
Despite qualifying for the postseason as the Class 4A District 10 runner-up to Clearwater, the Eagles made a run to the Region 3 finals. Their 19-6-2 season ended with a 0-0 match against Naples Gulf Coast that was decided by penalty kicks. Gulf Coast went on to win the Class 4A state championship.
Fast-forward to the 2018-2019 campaign and East Lake is back at it and looking even better.
The Eagles will enter next week’s District 4A-10 tournament unbeaten at 12-0-3 and ranked by MaxPreps.com in the top 20 in the state and top 50 in the nation. Their large, eight-team league allows for the higher-seeded team to host, meaning East Lake will get to stay home throughout – perhaps.
The Eagles share a league with Seminole High, this year’s top seed that’s rated No. 6 in Class 4A by MaxPreps.com, two slots higher than East Lake. The Warhawks represent one of East Lake’s three draws this season, a 3-3 home tie that came on Dec. 12.
If East Lake and Seminole navigate the district tourney field, the Warhawks will host the Feb. 1 title game.
Looking to shake up the expected East Lake-Seminole title match are a pair of North Pinellas programs – Clearwater and Countryside.
Countryside and Clearwater both finished their district schedules at 4-1-2, but Countryside gets the No. 3 seed behind East Lake thanks to its 2-1 road victory over Clearwater on Dec. 10.
Other than playing each other tightly, both contenders proved they can play with the league’s top two programs. Clearwater drew with both East Lake (1-1) and Seminole (2-2). Countryside played to a 1-1 tie at East Lake and fell 3-1 at Seminole after playing to a scoreless draw in the first half.
East Lake’s looking to reach its sixth regional postseason in the past seven years and win its third district championship over that span. The Eagles have reached the region finals three times over the past six years and took it to the state final four in 2013-2014.
So what about that other perennial North Pinellas soccer juggernaut?
Palm Harbor University has won four straight district championships and reached the region finals three times over that span, but the Hurricanes are at risk of missing the postseason for the first time since 2013-2014.
PHU finds itself in a rare situation, entering the District 5A-7 tournament seeded fourth and owning a pedestrian 6-6-2 overall record. The Hurricanes program is accustomed to playing in difficult leagues and this year’s field is no exception. All four teams ahead of PHU in the 5A-7 standings are ranked as Class 5A top 20 teams, according to MaxPreps.com: Plant (No. 9), Wiregrass Ranch (No. 15) and Steinbrenner (No. 20).
That sets up for a difficult task for the Hurricanes, but also for all other league contenders. Two teams make it out and reaching the Jan. 31 championship match at Steinbrenner is key. An issue for PHU is that it didn’t play particularly well against top district foes. The Hurricanes fell 3-0 at Steinbrenner, 3-0 at Plant and tied Wiregrass Ranch 2-2.