Defense Gets Job Done For Gators
LAND O' LAKES - John Gorman, Frank Villar and Alex Spock aren't really into statistics, records or history. They do, however, have a thing for winning and a passion for playing defense. The group, which also includes senior Alex Zimmerman and junior Chris Jenkins, leads perhaps the most dominant defensive unit Pasco County soccer has ever seen. Land O' Lakes has allowed 13 goals in 27 games this season, on pace to set a school record. But these guys don't epitomize the gritty, rough-and-tumble image usually associated with playing defense in sports."We're just having a good time," said Villar, a sophomore considered one of the best prospects in the area. "We all just laugh, and...we know when to get to work. We know what to do in order to get the job done." Entering Thursday's Class 5A region quarterfinal against Freedom, all they need to do is fall back on the experience of playing against the Gators' top forwards and midfielders in practice. Both provide a playoff-caliber test for the other each day they scrimmage. But even those matchups, facing 32-goal scorer Dominic Cutrofello and 21-goal scorer Elliott Leniton, among others, have been one-sided. The defense always wins. "It's difficult. We never score in practice," Cutrofello freely admits. "Spock, he stops them all. It's like he knows what we're going to do." Keep in mind, Land O' Lakes (25-1-1) shattered the previous school record of 88 goals scored during the 1999-2000 season. The Gators have 110 this season. Figuring out how good these defenders are isn't easy, mostly because the opponent is often preoccupied with the Gators' offense. Any coach, including Land O' Lakes' Mark Pearson, will tell you that defense starts in the midfield. And the Gators rarely give up good scoring chances. But when they do, it's hard to keep Villar and Gorman away from the ball. Villar is already a Division I college prospect two years before he graduates, with uncanny speed, agility and ball control. Gorman filled the sweeper role early in the year, which Pearson said has made the defense as strong as it is now. And Spock also has scouts drooling, with 16 shutouts this season, two off the single-season state record for a goalkeeper. The scary part is all three are eligible to return next season. "We're just really impressed with each other," Gorman said. Freedom's Bobby Huertas, the leading goal scorer in Hillsborough County with 35 goals, will be among the next group to try to crack the Gators' defense. Pearson is expecting the Patriots to play aggressively and try to challenge the defense. The Gators' No. 5 national ranking, aspirations to make the state finals and a few records are at stake, things Pearson has no problem leaving in the defense's hands. "The old adage is pretty much true in all sports - defense wins championships," Pearson said. "I'm hoping we can carry that trend on. We'll get tested every game, there is no easy road." LAND O' LAKES RECORD WATCH SCHOOL RECORDS BROKEN (PREVIOUS MARK) •Goals Scored-season: 110 (88, 1999-00) •Admiral Cup/Soccer Field Invite top finish: First (third, 2006-07) •Sunshine Athletic Conference Record: 10-0-0 (one loss, multiple times) SCHOOL RECORDS LOOMING (CURRENT RECORD) •Victories-season: 25 (tied, last 2000-01) •Fewest Goals Allowed-season: 13 (17 - 2000-01) STATE RECORDS LOOMING (CURRENT RECORD) •Individual Shutouts-season: 16-Alex Spock (18-Bill Twait, CCC 1993) •Team Shutouts-season: 17 (20-CCC 1983) State records courtesy NSCAA
Correspondent Bart O'Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.