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A final shot at glory

St. Petersburg's seniors have just about every title except the big one - a state soccer championship.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published November 11, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG - They have won 52 games in three seasons. They have won two Pinellas County Athletic Conference championships, one district title and been to the playoffs all three years.

But they have yet to win a playoff game.

For St. Petersburg's talented group of nine seniors, many of whom have started since their freshman years, this is it.

The Green Devils' senior year will be their last chance to win conference again, to win districts again, to finally win a playoff game and to finally achieve their ultimate goal.

"Win state," forward Emily Smith said. "It's always the goal."

To do that, they must get the last word on two foes who perennially have dogged them: Seminole, which has beaten them two years in a row for the district title, and Palm Harbor U., which has knocked them out of the past three postseasons.

St. Petersburg coach Rui Farias, in his sixth season, said this is the best group he's had. Now it's time for them to prove it.

"I think the players that were good when they were freshmen are really good now, and now they've matured into solid players," he said.

But they were pretty good as freshmen, winning 19 games, beating Seminole 1-0 in consecutive weeks to win their only district title, then taking their first PCAC title (over PHU).

They've won 18 and 15 games since (the schedules are shorter), but won only one more PCAC title as sophomores and were runnerups to PHU last year - the Hurricanes went 21-1, their only loss coming in the final four. Seminole also has kept them as district runnerups.

So what happened?

"We were like, "Oh, we've got three years with these girls (to win),' " Farias said. "But injuries have just crushed us the last two seasons. It's kind of been heartbreaking the last two years."

Injuries such as the ankle problems that have dogged Smith, who has 79 career goals and has led the team in scoring all three years. She should have had more than 19 last year, Farias said, "but she's had recurring problems with her ankle." "She does things with the ball that you don't expect girls to," Farias said. "The reason she's so good is that she has this incredible touch with the ball. She makes players miss a lot with her dribbling ability. It's uncanny."

Forward Ali Catlin has been lost for two straight seasons. As a sophomore she separated her shoulder and last year tore her right anterior cruciate ligament. "We haven't had her but for four-five games over the last two years," Farias said.

But Catlin is back. So is Rachel Howard, a star in goal who spent the summer training in Germany. So is sweeper Cory Woodworth, who has been a captain since her freshman year.

Despite all the injuries and setbacks, in clubs and in practice, they've built a familiarity that can only help them in their last season together.

"We've been together for so long, and we've played in club together, we're all friends off the field and pretty close," Smith said. "So we're used to playing with each other. We know each other's styles and we get along, which helps us."