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Great expectations

Central and Springstead are the county's best bets to make regionals.

Published January 15, 2006

Last year around this time, Springstead and Central were preparing for the Class 4A, District 9 tournament - Springstead as the No. 1 seed and Central as the No. 3. When it was all over, Central had advanced to the region tournament as district runnerup, and the Eagles were left to agonize over a first-round loss to Citrus.

They're in different districts now, thanks to some reshuffling by the Florida High School Athletic Association. Central begins its quest to get back to regionals Tuesday, agains as a No. 3 seed and this time in Class 5A, District 7. Springstead again is a top seed, having moved to Class 4A, District 8.

Central faces an ultra-tough task this season, needing to beat No. 2 seed Land O'Lakes to advance to the district finals and ensure a region berth. The teams split their regular-season meetings, with Central winning the first game 2-1 and falling 3-2 in the second. Victories are victories, but Land O'Lakes' win does come with an asterisk. The Bears' leading scorer, Danielle Brown, was on vacation in Texas and didn't play.

"Not having Danielle meant a lot," Central coach Amy Ellis said. "She's our offensive strong suit."

Brown has 24 goals this season, but that's not all she brings to the squad. Ellis said the team analyzes positives and negatives after each game, and when critiquing Brown's effect on the squad, her leadership and motivational influence top her list of positives.

Facing the real prospect of elimination against Land O'Lakes is more serious with outside midfielder Jacquelyn Manfredo out with a broken leg. To make up for the loss, Ellis is moving Dana Perreira to Manfredo's spot and shifting Kim Brown to goalkeeper. Ellis said she'll miss Brown's "talent on the field," but the team will profit from her experience as a goalkeeper.

On Monday, Springstead avenged its early-season loss to Central with a 3-1 home win. Junior defender Nicky Faulkner said it was a statement game. All year, the Eagles have been preparing, not just for the district tournament, but for a return to regionals after last season's disappointing exit. The Eagles ran roughshod over District 8 foes, going undefeated and beating opponents by a combined score of 61-7.

But Springstead coach Polo Furlong said the Eagles' schedule purposely included games against teams such as Central, Lecanto and Class 5A, District 7-leading River Ridge to keep them sharp.

"We kind of figured that this season would be kind of easy for us," Faulkner said. "But our main focus is getting to the regionals."

A few weeks ago, Angela Passafaro reflected on the season nearing its end. She had already scored most of her county-leading 37 goals, and only Nature Coast was standing between Springstead and an undefeated season. Without looking too far ahead though, Passafaro talked about ultimate goals.

Asked if another district exit would be disappointing, she paused.

"Yeah, it definitely would," she said. "We're too good for that."

Vincent Thomas can be reached at or 352 848-1430.

[Last modified January 15, 2006, 01:47:20]

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