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No such thing as a guaranteed victory

The Gators are the top seed, but they know they're not infallible.

Published January 22, 2006

LAND O'LAKES - No question Land O'Lakes is favored in the Class 5A, District 7 tournament. History, this season's success and even location are on the Gators' side.

A defending district champion that last season was the lone county team to reach a region final, Land O'Lakes is the top seed at 6-1-1. And Gator Stadium is the host site for this week's tourney.

"Where we are right now is where I thought we'd be," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said, adding, "Homefield for us this year is huge."

But in the postseason, the favorites do not always adhere to the script. Spoilers are lurking, notably two teams that posted .500 district records. No. 2 seed Wesley Chapel (4-4) and No. 3 Ridgewood (3-3-2) have had their moments and both are capable of upsetting Land O'Lakes (16-5-3 overall).

In fact, Wesley Chapel defeated Land O'Lakes 1-0 on Jan. 13. But the Wildcats failed to build on that success with a 5-1 loss to Pasco three days later.

"We struggled that night against Wesley Chapel," Pearson said.

For Wesley Chapel coach Brian Dorkowski, the opponent will not dictate the outcome as much as how his team plays.

"We can beat every team in the district and we can lose to every team in the district," Dorkowski said. "If we play like that (1-0 defeat of the Gators) and play how we're capable of playing, we should be okay. We should be able to compete with everybody and have a chance to move on."

Ridgewood is in the same boat. The Rams reeled off a five-game unbeaten streak after a lackluster start. That 4-0-1 stretch included an overtime win against then-unbeaten St. Petersburg Catholic in the Ridgewood Winter Soccer tournament.

"It's a good way to measure how we're doing," Ridgewood coach Ed McComiskey said after his team dropped SPC to 12-0-1.

With a loss to Wesley Chapel and a tie with Ridgewood (1-1 on Nov. 18), Pearson said neither district rival should be overlooked.

"I think they're good teams," Pearson said. "Being inconsistent doesn't mean they're bad teams. We're going to prepare like they're good teams."

Preparation and versatility have been vital to the Gators' success. Pearson has used numerous formations and combinations, and moved players to different positions, throughout the season.

"We're not limited in any way at all," Pearson said. "I would say half my team can play different positions. Our strong suit is our versatility and we've got so many players on the point sheet."

The Gators lack a go-to scorer as they had in the past, a long list that includes county career scoring leader Justin Geisler. But 17 Land O'Lakes players have scored this season, topped by Dayne Stabile's 11 goals and 39 points.

On the other end is goalkeeper Andrew Kimpland, who has a 1.24 goals-against average and five shutouts.

[Last modified January 22, 2006, 01:02:19]

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