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It all starts in the net

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- Kyle Boerner was only 10 years old when the call went out.

The goalkeeper on his youth team had been sidelined by an injury, and without a backup, the coach asked his team for volunteers.

Did anyone want to give it a try in goal?

"I figured I might as well," said Boerner.

Boerner has been in goal ever since and now starts as a freshman for Land O'Lakes, which heads into the final week of regular-season play needing one win to lock up another Sunshine Athletic Conference crown.

What Boerner learned that day is what teams across the county have been reminded of this season -- a successful team needs a dependable keeper in front of the net, and some cases, two. "If you're a team relying on only one goalkeeper and an injury or suspension happens, it can be the end of your year," said Gators coach Mark Pearson.

"I'm very fortunate to have good goalkeepers, and they're young but have a lot of experience."

Boerner timed his arrival at Land O'Lakes well.

Last year's starter, Greg Kline, graduated after earning conference Player of the Year honors.

The Gators' keeper to start the season was senior Dustin Collins, who earned a shutout in the season opener and had the county's lowest goals-against-average in early December.

Boerner showed enough to take the starting job, relegating Collins to the bench.

Collins opted to quit the team last week rather than watch from the sidelines.

Boerner's maturity as a freshman reminds Pearson of three years ago, when he saw enough from current senior John-Paul Rodrigues to make him the Gators' starting sweeper as a freshman.

"He has just as much experience as John-Paul did," Pearson said. "The players in front of him, they've really come to trust him."

Boerner has allowed 16 goals in 13 games, which works out to a 1.23 goals-against average, among the lowest in the county.

What's more, seven of the goals against the freshman have been on penalty kicks -- difficult for any goalie to stop.

"It's kind of our team joke, the penalty kicks," Boerner said. "I try to look at the body posture and foot position of the kicker as he lines up, but sometimes you can't tell and just have to make it a guessing game."

Boerner got a scare late in Wednesday's 2-1 victory at Zephyrhills, when he was assessed a red card by officials who said he taunted the Bulldogs bench after the Gators scored the go-ahead goal in the closing minutes.

Fortunately for the freshman, while the card took him out of the game, it does not carry any suspension with it.

"The good thing is that Kyle's able to play in the next game," said Pearson, who promoted sophomore Tony Vu from the junior varsity after Collins left the team.

Other county teams have seen that one goalkeeper isn't enough.

Zephyrhills recently was without standout senior Frank Fregoso for three games, one due to illness and two because of a school-related disciplinary suspension. Coach Philip Castro moved sophomore Keith Ostermann into goal and finished with three victories while Fregoso was out.

River Ridge coach Concepcion Ledezma had solid play in the first half of the season from Aaron Malcolm, who had posted four shutouts before surprising the team after the holiday break with news his family was moving to Nebraska.

Ledezma took a risk by moving his top defender, junior sweeper Devon Hill, into goal, but the move has paid off as the Knights went 2-0-1 in their first three guys after the switch.

Other teams have been able to go all season with continuity in goal.

Kenny Eva has made a solid transition from football to soccer as Hudson's first-year keeper.

Gulf junior Brandon King has the county's lowest GAA, having held opponents to 24 goals in 22 games, including six shutouts.

"I wasn't even counting on him before the season, but he's really come a long way," Buccaneers coach Sam Koleduk said.

The county's most respected keeper might be Wesley Chapel senior Gilbert Montelongo, who hasn't had the same success as he did last season at Pasco but has impressed opposing coaches by racking up saves, even in a losing effort.

"Truthfully, we beat them 4-1 last time we played them, but he must have made five or six saves that kept balls out of the net," Pearson said. "Goals-against average can be misleading in many ways, and it could have easily been 10-1 without him playing as well as he did."

Boerner is quick to acknowledge that much of his rookie success should be credited to the defenders making his job easy. While standing on the other end of the field, he has seen other keepers work much harder to keep the same low numbers on the scoreboard.

"I'm really thankful for the defense I have playing in front of me," he said. "It was tough on me in the beginning, because I was afraid of making a mistake, letting the team down.

"This team has welcomed me in as a freshman, and I'm lucky about that. It probably took three or four games, but all my jitters went away."

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