Land O' Lakes, Sunlake, Pasco vying for top spots
LAND O' LAKES - Someone's going to be left out in the cold. In Class 3A-District 7 there are only two postseason spots, meaning, a team, ultimately, may have nothing to show for a great season. "For whatever reason, the state put the best three teams in the county in the same district," said coach Mark Pearson, who is in his 16th season with Land O' Lakes. "Are we the best of the three? Every night we have to go out and prove it, but I don't think we've done anything so far this year to say we're better than anybody." Indeed, play thus far has been spread evenly, including Land O' Lakes (6-1-1, 3-0-1) tying Sunlake (8-0-2, 3-0-2) 1-1 on Nov. 16, but defeating Pasco (5-1-1, 2-1-1) 6-2 two days prior. However, the Seahawks and Pirates played to a scoreless draw Monday, while the results of the Pasco/Land O' Lakes rematch last Friday were unavailable at press time.Still on tap is Monday when the Gators host the Seahawks and Sunlake hosting the Pirates on Friday. "I think it's the hardest district in all of Florida," Pasco coach Barry Grayling said. "I don't think a lot of teams would want to play all three of us, and people would really be biting at the bullet if they were in the same district with Pasco, Sunlake and Land O' Lakes — it's the hardest district to get out of." This hard district even includes two more teams: Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. The Wildcats won 17 games last season, and as coach Brian Dorkowski says, "I've never won that many games and have three other teams win 20 or more ahead of you." "It's definitely crazy to have such good teams in one district, where only a few things separate us," said Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk, who guided the Seahawks to a region final last season. "You think they'd want us in different districts so more teams advance (to the postseason), but now, you're looking facing a district team four times. Now that's crazy." For Land O' Lakes and Sunlake, a district such as this one shows the deep talent pool in the central Pasco County town. The Gators were the perennial top dog, but now share their impressive feeder systems with the Seahawks. "A lot of us are all on the same club, but, fortunately, we're spilt about right down the middle," Sunlake senior midfielder Calvin Restrepo said, "so when we face each other, it's a real good rivalry." It is becoming an intense rivalry, one that Pearson also contributes to "having a target on our backs. Land O' Lakes has been winning for a while, so now, when they score on us, they celebrate like it's the World Cup." "I think when we play as a team, there's probably nobody in the county that can keep up with us," said Gators midfield Nathan Dalton, who is garnering interest from Florida Gulf Coast. "If we can figure out how to play together better, then there's no stopping us." "I definitely think we have an advantage with our midfielders," said Gators forward Josh Davis, who is receiving interest to play for Saint Leo. "It may have just been a tie last time, but when we have them on our larger field, they're going to have a much tougher time." Pasco was unable to stop Land O' Lakes in the second half of that Nov. 14 game, however, Sunlake played defensive and sat eight players in the box, shutting down the high-scoring offense of forwards Miguel Laliberte and Andy Garcia. The Seahawks, when facing the Pirates, relied heavily on new goalkeeper Brandon Jungbauer, who made nine saves against the likes of Jose Flores, Dillon Dunbar and others. Consider all these talented names and more when Land O' Lakes hosts the district tournament beginning Jan. 23. "The want and desire to win is here on this team and in this district," Pearson said. "That, more than anything, makes this a very difficult district."
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunasTrib.