It was a “drought” most programs throughout Pinellas County would give limbs to be “mired” in.
The Palm Harbor University girls soccer team, winner of five state championships since 1999 and runner-up on two other occasions, hadn’t added to its trophy case since the 2009-2010 season.
Hurricanes teams reached the state final four three times since that last title almost a decade ago, including last year’s 2-1 semifinal defeat at Oviedo, but couldn’t quite make it to the big one. From 1999 to 2010, the biggest gap between championship appearances was the 2000 title team and the 2005 state runner-up.
This year’s ’Canes began the season ranked highly in both state and national polls and sported a veteran roster loaded with 12 seniors. Those fourth-year players were running out of time, though. A pair of region final appearances and last year’s ascension to the final four makes for an impressive resume for most. But things are a little different at PHU.
The Hurricanes blazed through the regular season unbeaten with just a 1-1 draw at Plant standing as the lone blemish. They entered the ultra-competitive Class 5A District 7 tournament as the favorite, but a 1-0 finals loss to Wiregrass Ranch suddenly cast doubt on PHU’s ability to reach states.
Coach Randy Irick’s experienced, battle-tested squad wasn’t having any of that.
The ’Canes recovered from their district championship defeat by going on the road and beating Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (1-0), Wiregrass Ranch (2-0) and Winter Park (3-2), in succession, to return to the final four. PHU got to host Lake Mary, another district runner-up, and did what it couldn’t last year. A 1-1 draw was settled with a shootout and PHU was back in last Friday’s state championship in DeLand against unbeaten Weston Cypress Bay.
The Hurricanes entered as Class 5A’s No. 2 team in the state, according to MaxPreps.com. Cypress Bay was unbeaten and No. 1.
Those rankings now need updated.
In the 20th minute, senior Lauren Kane bent an incredible corner kick that sailed into the net.
For the next 60 or so minutes of game time, the PHU defense and keeper Cameron Laine kept Cypress Bay’s potent offense off the board and the celebration was on.
PHU 1, Cypress Bay 0.
Laine, another senior, saved perhaps her best game for last. PHU scorekeeper Bob Bentz recorded 18 Lightning shots on goal. Laine rejected 17 of those attempts for her 12th shutout of the season.
PHU was the lone Tampa Bay area girls program to win or reach a state championship this season
Pinellas County nearly crowned two soccer champions, but Shorecrest Prep came up short in the Class 1A final against defending state champ Miami Palmer Trinity, falling 2-1.
East Lake heads into this weekend’s Class 2A Region 3 meet at Punta Gorda Charlotte with plenty of momentum.
The Pinellas County Athletic Conference champion added a District 2A-9 title to its list of accomplishments last week, cruising to a 73-point victory. The Eagles placed 12 wrestlers in the top four of their weight classes, including five individual champions, and their 205 teams points topped second-place River Ridge (132) and third-place Dunedin (121).
East Lake’s district champs were Jason Leggett (132 pounds), Ronald Fritz (152), Trent Rehula (195), Rami Goris (220) and Madison Davila (285).
Dunedin, the defending district champion, sent four wrestlers to the top of the podium. Those winners were Jacob Krebs (126), Mailo Johnson (138) John Jannelle (145) and Desrion Arnold (182).
Qualifying wrestlers will compete at the Region 2A-3 meet Friday and Saturday.
PHU was unable to repeat as District 3A-8 champion last week, falling short of Bradenton Manatee, 207.5-142.
The Hurricanes were one of three teams to have a wrestler in all 14 weight groups and brothers Dylan (106) and Colby (152) Sparkman captured gold.
Countryside placed fourth as a team, with undefeated Anthony Burburija (195) and Steve Chopek (126) winning titles.
The Region 3A-2 meet will be March 1-2 at Kissimmee Osceola.
Four wasn’t enough for East Lake and St. Petersburg.
A pair of Class 8A region quarterfinal victories set up the district rivals’ fifth meeting Tuesday night at East Lake. (Go to www.SuncoastNews.com for the game recap and photos.)
The Eagles entered as winners of the last two games: the PCAC championship and District 8A-10 title. St. Pete won the first two matchups.
East Lake reached the second round by dropping Plant City, 62-40, for its second postseason win in program history. A win over St. Pete would send the Eagles to their first-ever region final Friday night against the winner of Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (21-6) and Fort Myers Riverdale (18-6). East Lake and St. Pete would have to go on the road to face either opponent.
Three other Pinellas County programs were in action Tuesday night. Lakewood beat Gibbs three times this season and the South County rivals played again in a Class 6A region semifinal. In Class 3A, Canterbury had a chance to reach its first-ever state final four when it hosted Orlando Christian Prep in a region final.