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Strong Mitchell sets target

With many returning starters, the Mustangs expect a run to the title.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published November 30, 2003

TRINITY - There's no doubt about it. Mitchell is good.

The Mustangs are a fast team, blessed with scoring ability up front, possessive midfielders, blanket defenders in back and a talented keeper in goal.

If there's some element that all that talent and experience can't provide, then surely Mitchell can find it somewhere on that deep bench.

While Land O'Lakes may be the defending Class 2A champions, it is Mitchell that could rule Pasco County this season.

But the Mustangs' goals extend far beyond the county's borders. Inspired by the Gators' run to the state semifinals and title last season, the Mustangs want to experience their own trip to state.

The goal, second-year coach Karl Kukec said, is the state final four. And after that, who knows...

"I think we're definitely one of the best teams out there," Kukec said. "I would say that's our goal. We went last year to the region semifinals. We were ranked No.10 in the state. I think that we did not lose anything from last year. I think that's a good assumption, that we're ready.

"That's our ultimate goal, to get into the final four."

Mitchell is well-armed to do just that, returning virtually intact a team that went 20-4-2 last season. That squad won the Class 3A, District 7 championship on Michelle Kukec's free kick, as the coach's daughter scored in the 72nd minute over Ridgewood.

Making their first postseason appearance, the Mustangs beat Lakeland George Jenkins 3-1 in the region quarterfinal playoffs but fell 3-2 in a semifinal to Melbourne Eau Gallie at Mustang Stadium.

Yet Mitchell's biggest win of the year may have been that 1-0 regular-season decision over Land O'Lakes, which only lost three games last season. Then-freshman Lauren Schenk's 15-footer was the difference.

Schenk and Hudson are among the four Mustangs back who were ranked among the county's top 16 scorers that year.

Schenk, who was the area's second-leading scorer, produced a school-record 35 goals. Kate Slaughter was fifth in the county with 28. Alyssa Petrella had 11 and 17 assists, and Kukec had 10 goals and 16 assists.

Hudson was second in goals-against average with 1.23 and had eight shutouts.

Together with defender Lindsay Sowder, all four made the All-Sunshine Athletic Conference team.

Little has changed this season, save that Kukec's girls have a year of physical and mental development under their belts in that 3-5-2 alignment, spurred by last year's taste of the playoffs.

"We can control the game pretty much," Kukec said. "It isn't kickball. We can actually play. We have support all over the field."

The team has jumped out to a 6-0 start, and that's without Sowder and Carly Mitchell, another junior defender, both suspended until early December for violating unspecified team rules.

Even without them, the Mustangs have allowed just one goal, and have scored 28.

The first real test of the season is Thursday when Land O'Lakes visits. The two find themselves district rivals in new Class 5A-5.

"We still have to prove ourselves over and over again," Kukec said. "Every time we take the field, hopefully we can live up to what I've been saying all along."

[Last modified November 30, 2003, 01:16:37]


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