Soccer: East Lake, PHU leading the way as usual

East Lake and Palm Harbor University being at or near the top of the standings may not be an annual guarantee, but it’s seems pretty close to one.

This year is, for the most part, no different.

Despite playing in an extremely competitive league, Class 5A District 7, East Lake’s boys and girls squads edged out PHU for second place. Recent Hillsborough power Steinbrenner High will go into January’s district tournaments as the top seed.

North Pinellas’ top two programs met last Friday night in Palm Harbor for a couple of their annual grudge-match meetings. It was there that the Lady Eagles secured the No. 2 seeding with a 1-1 draw.

Regardless of the girls’ final, though, Friday night’s match was a probable district semifinal preview. To set up that meeting, PHU will have to get past last-place Alonso High, a team they powered through with ease in the regular season.

“The only way we can look at it is that it’s a game that we have to win,” said Hurricanes Coach John Planamenta. “But it’s a game rather than sitting. We don’t have another game [until then].”

But while East Lake-PHU rivalry games are some of biggest draws throughout Pinellas County soccer, the mid-January semifinal will be bittersweet. Both teams are playoff-worthy, but the loser will unfortunately go home.

The boys side is slightly different. Although East Lake is in second place, the ‘Canes are in the midst of their most turbulent season in recent memory.

PHU will enter the league tourney as the No. 4 seed. A quarterfinal win brings up a tough semi matchup with Steinbrenner (12-1-1) last year’s Class 4A runner-up.

East Lake, sitting at 14-1-1, has no easy semifinal task, either. The Eagles will have to beat No. 3 Plant to reach the title match.

East Lake and leading-scorer Josh Page took out Plant on the road, 2-1 this season, but its only loss came against Steinbrenner, 3-1.

Page, who netted his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season last Friday in the Eagles’ 4-1 win over PHU, agreed with Coach Alex Stenson that the silver lining of the Steinbrenner setback is that it’s refocused the team.

“I’m happy a little that Steinbrenner did beat us,” Page said. “Yeah, it’s tough that we lost that game, but it woke us up. It gave us more drive. I think we took some things for granted for a little but we’re ready now.”

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