TAMPA — The FHSAA’s redistricting for this soccer season made major changes in the state’s highest classification, Class 5A, as perennial powerhouse Lakeland Jenkins joined Bloomingdale, Durant, Newsome, Riverview, Strawberry Crest and Wharton in District 6.
However, maybe the most notable change was first the bump up of Steinbrenner to 5A and then the combining of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in 5A-District 7. Steinbrenner and Plant — usual district front-runners — have to contend with Pinellas County’s East Lake, Palm Harbor University and Countryside.
It has made for some interesting soccer, but also for a confusing district scenario. Plant (11-3-2) has had a solid season, but is the fourth seed for the district tournament.
“It’s kind of funny, because when people ask me how we’re doing, I say, ‘We’re doing great, having a great year,’ ” Plant coach Pam Smith said. “But then when you look at our district, we’re 2-2-1 and in fourth place.”
Steinbrenner holds the top seed in the district, as well as a 1-0 win against Plant. But as Smith added: “This district is wide open.”
The top four seeds have double-digit wins heading into the tournament, which begins Saturday at PHU.
For the Panthers, the season has had a number of things go right, including a current six-game win streak. Seniors Abby Sanchez (17 goals, 10 assists) and Nastasia Asgedom (11 goals, eight assists) lead the team in scoring, however Smith said the surprise this season has been the contributions of sophomore Rebekah McFadden.
The forward has come on strong, scoring a pair of goals in the Panthers’ win against Robinson on Tuesday. She has seven goals and 10 assists this year.
“She’s just been a consistent weapon for us this season,” Smith said. “She came off the bench a little last year, but has really been fearless for us this year.”
The King Invitational Tournament will continue through the weekend, as the Lions host seven other Hillsborough County teams in a tune-up for the postseason.
King topped Robinson in its opening match, 3-2.
The bracket continues with matches through today before the final, which will take place Saturday at 4 p.m. at King.
Newsome: Undefeated regular season?
The Newsome girls will be the top seed in the 5A-6 tournament after going 6-0 against district opponents.
However, it’s another zero in a column that would again prove a mark of excellence for the Wolves as they travel to East Bay (6-4-2) tonight looking to preserve an undefeated regular season for the second time in three seasons.
“To play the best schools in the county and to be moving toward our second undefeated regular season demonstrates the unselfishness, trust and dedication this team has had this year,” coach Kelly Townsend said.
Newsome (15-0) has posted a 76-4 goal differential. The physical and speedy Wolves are led by junior Karli Gutsche, a tall and imposing player who has committed to Auburn and has proven to be a weapon with 16 goals.
Townsend said she is thrilled with the way her team has played against district opponents, but she added that just because the Wolves hold wins over each of their potential district tournament foes doesn’t mean they can afford to take anyone lightly.
She said she knows her team is a target against talented teams such as Lakeland Jenkins (7-4-3) and Durant (9-3-2), who each lost to Newsome 2-1, as well as Wharton (9-7-4), which will be seeded third.
“We have a young team with a lot of confidence and determination they’ll need in the district tournament,” Townsend said. “And this is a district that anyone can win.”
Tonight, the Wolves will look to keep momentum rolling in their regular-season finale, but they face a solid side in East Bay that is led by senior captains Michelle Rodriguez and Hailey Smith.