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Rams rose to occasion late

And that's why their coach, Ed McComiskey, is the pick among a strong field.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

Postseason soccer in Pasco County saw a changing of the guard this season, with last year's playoff teams falling in the district semifinals and three new teams taking their place, not only making the region playoffs but winning first-round games as well.

The common factor in all three was a coach whose success this year was founded with a chemistry years in the making, and the common result was unprecedented playoff success. That makes choosing a single coach of the year a difficult task.

No county team matched Hudson's success: first in winning a conference crown, then in winning a packed Class 3A district, allowing the Cobras and coach Ron Ladimir to reach the region final for the first time in school history.

If Hudson enjoyed the greatest success, Wesley Chapel and first-year coach Brian Dorkowski enjoyed the most surprising playoff run. Last season the Wildcats won five matches and went 1-13-2 in conference play. This season Dorkowski led the team to 10 wins and the school's first playoff berth with a district semifinal upset over Land O'Lakes.

The county's biggest improvement, however, came at Ridgewood, which finished last in its district a year ago and 10-14-3 overall.

By doubling his team's win total, finishing second in the conference and upsetting the district's top two seeds, Rams coach Ed McComiskey is the Times' Pasco County coach of the year after earning the school's first playoff win in 17 years.

"I really didn't think we were going to do that well," said McComiskey, whose team rallied for two goals in the final minutes to upset Lake Region in the region quarterfinals. "It wasn't that I didn't have confidence in the guys, but I didn't think we'd have the consistency throughout the team. A couple of guys really stepped up and the whole team came together."

Ridgewood didn't add any key players from last year's team, so the improvement came in the team's camaraderie, a bonding that started a season earlier. McComiskey realized his team played better on the road than at home, and credited the difference to the time players spent together on afternoon bus rides.

So the Rams began spending afternoons before home games together, hanging out in McComiskey's room for an informal bonding session of pizza, cards and movies. The selection varied from World Cup highlights to Saving Private Ryan, the key being that the Rams were together as one, hours before they needed to play together.

The Rams' real success came after a midseason slump and impossibly difficult week in January -- McComiskey kicked two players off the team after they opted to skip a game to play flag football; Jose Anazco was suspended for one week following a red card; and the Rams suffered on the field as well, earning two losses and a tie.

The next week the Rams were a closer group, with a star player more focused and a team whose late surge started with a tie against Gulf.

"I thought that hump would either make us or break us, and it turned out it made us," McComiskey said. "When we came back that Monday, everybody seemed to rise to the occasion. Although we tied Gulf, we played a great game. I saw the way we played that night and said, 'Wow.' "

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