TRINITY — Mico Petrovich wasn’t there last season.
Well, the Mitchell High senior was, but not like this year, where the team that jumped up a classification, has deep soccer history and even took a Sunshine Athletic Conference title is the best in Pasco County.
“I cared, but not as much,” Petrovich said. “I was more focused on club soccer and recruiting, but it’s my senior year now, so you care more. I’ve taken this year more serious because you’re a senior and, when you’re older, you want to be able to say, ‘I went to states when I played high school soccer.’”
Mitchell (19-2-1) does have a good track to states, but will first start as the No. 1 seed at the Class 4A-District 8 tournament that begins Monday. The Mustangs look to return to the region tournament and live up to the legacy left by the 2010 Class 4A state championship team, the only boys soccer state title in Pasco County history.
Petrovich has 30 goals this season, which is tied for second in the county.
He garnered interest from colleges such as Saint Leo and Lynn.
“We expected be to OK, but not this good. We lost the first game of the season,” Petrovich said, referring to a 4-2 loss to Berkeley Prep and coach had a long talk with us, and the mentality changed.”
“It’s not a huge surprise what we’ve done,” coach Oscar Ubillus said, “but this team had to mature and it started with Mico. This year he’s turned a corner and matured and he always had the talent. He’s probably the most technical played I’ve ever had and he just added that scoring touch this year. He recognizes now that this is important and that makes a big difference, especially to the younger players.”
What Mitchell is looking to avoid is another letdown after losing last season’s district championship to River Ridge, even though the Mustangs are now in a higher class and more competitive district. Their biggest nemesis will, most likely, be Wiregrass Ranch (16-1-2), which the Mustangs beat 3-1 on Dec. 12.
There could be a rematch in the district championship Friday at Leto, yet Mitchell remains confident with its defense and goalkeeper, Mitchell Szydlowski, who allowed only 19 goals and posted eight shutouts.
“Everything is doable,” Petrovich said. “You don’t want to slack off your senior year and it can be hard to live up to what’s happened in the past, but, honestly, we can’t care what guys before us or in 2010 did. It’s about how we do now because we can only care about ourselves. It’s our year — no one else’s.
The Mustangs have a first-round bye and play the winner of Freedom and Gaither — the latter of which the Mustangs tied 1-1 in the regular season — and will lean more on Petrovich, who many consider the county’s best player. He takes those compliments in stride, instead focusing on being there for the team this season.
Because he has realized it’s right where he should be.
“I’m a leader on this team because the younger kids look up to me,” Petrovich said. “Hopefully they want to play just like a senior and play like we are now. We’ve proved we can play with everyone and we can make it very far, even to states.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.