Palm Harbor U. seeks more team unity and a deeper run in the playoffs this season under a new coach.
On paper, Palm Harbor University looks like a team to beat. It returns all but one player and is coming off of a trip to the region final.
In reality things aren't quite that good. Colleen Sweeney, a senior sweeper, tore her ACL and is out until January. And coach Holly Freeman, who took the Hurricanes far in past seasons, left at the start of the academic year for a job out of the country.
Still, a strong core of returning players is left and Palm Harbor always seems to have young talent moving in. New coach John Planamenta, who was Freeman's assistant for two seasons and coached East Lake for seven, is no stranger to high expectations.
"A lot of people come up to me and say "It should be a good year,' " Planamenta said. "I know we have a strong team and they should do well. That's the pressure part of it. That's going to be the interesting thing if we can stay consistent."
With virtually everyone coming back, the good and bad from last season's team has the potential to carry over as well. One of the team's weaknesses last season was unity. There were some strong players and personalities that didn't always come together on the field, Planamenta said. But after a season of playing together and getting to know each other, the Hurricanes might move past those issues.
"That's definitely changed this year," said Sara Stack, a senior midfielder. "People grow up."
Palm Harbor is confident about its chances and has goals of advancing to the state final four. In the preseason the Hurricanes defeated Tarpon Springs and Countryside and tested its young bench. Some of the key players for the Hurricanes include Annie Stalzer who, as a freshman last season, led the team in goals with 30. Stalzer is paired with senior co-captain Kaylyn Smith, giving the Hurricanes speed up front.
Sophomore Chelsea Brinkman replaced Sweeney and early on has shown she can hold her own at sweeper. Emily Stack, a sophomore, will also be a key defender and seniors Sara Stack and Arielle Orr are skilled players who will take care of the midfield.
"You can't ever expect to be great," Stalzer said. "We really do have a strong team this year and I think we'll do really well.
"We gotta make sure we don't get too big of a head. That's when you get upset and something will go wrong."
The Hurricanes were one game from the state final four last season, losing in overtime in the region final to Durant. But before thinking about the postseason this time, PHU will have to finish a stiff regular season strong district teams such as Countryside and East Lake.
"We have a lot of seniors this year it's their last chance to go far," Brinkman said. "They all want to do their best. We have the same drive and determination hopefully we'll be able to put it all together and go far."