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After losing the majority of its scoring from last season, Crystal River has received offensive contributions from out of nowhere. Justin Loriss, Morgan Rise and returning all-area pick Josh Caldwell have emerged as threats. Pirates coach Bobby Verlato said as of last week Loriss and Rise were the county's top goal scorers."We're not where we want to be yet, but the offense is starting to develop nicely," Verlato said. "We're starting to get nice passes, and the midfield is starting to play as a unit and we're scoring more."
Crystal River is 4-0 against Class 2A, District 7 competition.
The Pirates play River Ridge and Hernando before a big game at Lecanto on Friday. Verlato considers how Crystal River performs against its county rival as a test.
"That game is going to determine where we need to be the next couple of weeks," he said. "Then we're going to have the rematch with Citrus (Dec. 11), so the next few games push us in to Christmas break, and we've got some goals that we want to be at."
VALUABLE IMPORT: One of Crystal River's best defenders, senior sweeper Paul Thomas, was born in England and moved to the United States in 1994 at age 10.
He was from Wickford, Essex, about 20 miles outside of London.
The popularity of the sport elsewhere compared to the U.S. is not the only difference, he said.
"The name, over there you could call it football," Thomas joked. "You play it out in the streets, you play it with your buds at an early age and grow up with it."
Thomas originally was expected to play left defender but took over for injured Matt Ryals, who is out for the season.
"I think we had to overcome key injuries, and Paul Thomas has stepped up in his position," Verlato said. "Our defense is coming together, we're limping through right now."
PANTHERS ON PROWL: Lecanto coach Doug Warren has the Panthers off to a 4-0 start.
The offense has been spread out with multiple goal scorers, and goalie Chris Thomashunis has two shutouts.
"We just need to continue playing as a team and passing the ball and being unselfish with it and work together," Warren said.
On Wednesday, Lecanto plays Citrus, then Friday is Crystal River and Monday is Springstead. Warren said almost every game this week is a toss-up.
"There aren't any clear-cut favorites in the county, I don't think," he said. "That's unusual because usually one team's dominating. This year it looks like it could be anyone's game, which makes it more fun."
The former Lecanto assistant is in his first year as a head coach.
Citrus' Andrew Castorina also is new this season. Verlato is in his second year, having gone 14-4-2 a season ago.