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A playoff season four years in the making

Bishop McLaughlin, with a berth in tonight's regionals, has come a long way from its coed roots.

By IZZY GOULD
Published February 1, 2007


SPRING HILL - A trophy stands in a large case with plenty of elbow room.

Work continues outside on a cement-block foundation for lights that will illuminate a football field tucked behind Bishop McLaughlin.

The evolution of an athletic program continued Wednesday here just north of construction-crazed State Road 52.

The boys soccer team was still the toast of the cafeteria after it became the first team in school history to win a trophy and a playoff berth. The Hurricanes did it a week ago with a 3-1 win over Cambridge in the Class 2A, District 10 tournament. An 8-0 loss to Tampa Prep for the tournament title did little to spoil the achievement.

Bishop McLaughlin 13-5 has a bona fide soccer program. It began four years ago with a coed skeleton crew of 11 kids. Those numbers dwindled to eight for a group that wouldn't play a single game.

The coach, John Mayer, admits he had his doubts in the beginning.

He walked away from a 21-year career at Pace Academy in Atlanta where he was 255-60-20 with 15 state finals appearances and nine titles.

"The last practice I had in Atlanta was for a state championship game the next day," Mayer said. "I came down here and the first practice I had was six girls, five boys, all freshmen. My first thought: What do we do now?"

Mayer began with fundamentals.

Every day was practice for a game that would have to wait until Year 2.

That first group almost had a scrimmage with Saddlebrook Prep. Then some players left the team and that first game was pushed back a year.

This time there were 20 kids - still coed. They traveled to places like Leesburg, Ocala and Gainesville, anywhere they could find games.

And in Year 3 the Hurricanes finally fielded a boys varsity team, which went a promising 7-7-3.

This season 19 kids hope to carry Bishop McLaughlin to its first playoff victory tonight at Indian Rocks Christian, a team it has beaten twice.

A 2-3 start quickly turned when Mayer made an adjustment from five midfielders to a 4-3-3. The result was an eight-game win streak.

This year the Hurricanes have a solid lineup with a couple of transfers, including Andrew Houseman who came in from Sickles. Mayer credits them with making the team even stronger.

"The program over (at Sickles) was a lot more intense than it is here," Houseman said. "But the support here has been great. A lot of kids said they are coming to the game even though it's more than an hour from here."

Mike Addessi was one of those 11 kids who helped start the program alongside Mayer.

Now he's set to graduate, leaving a solid foundation for future teams to build on.

"In the beginning everyone just wanted to play," Addessi said. "The second year we got our butts kicked. Now we have everyone congratulating us because we've done something for the school.

"I never thought we would ever be here, quite honestly."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@sptimes.com or at (813) 909-4619.

CLASS 5A

Wharton (15-2) vs. Land O'Lakes (20-4-2), at Gator Stadium

Wesley Chapel (12-6-2) at Freedom (9-3-4)

How they got here: The Gators won the 5A-7 district title with a 3-1 win over Wesley Chapel. Freedom earned a 1-0 overtime victory against Wharton for the 5A-8 title. Last year, Freedom and Land O'Lakes played, with the Gators getting knocked out of the region quarterfinals 1-0 in overtime. Wharton also advanced out of the region semifinals last season with an 8-0 win against Ridgewood. This is Wesley Chapel's first trip back to the state tournament since 2005.

Keep an eye on: Gators forward Louis Falcon has five goals in his past two games. Land O'Lakes has won two straight since a loss to Pasco in the regular-season finale.

CLASS 4A

Celebration (9-10-2) vs. Pasco (19-0-2), at W.F. Edwards Stadium

How they got here: Pasco defended the 4A-8 title with a 2-1 win over Springstead. Celebration fell 10-2 to Orlando Bishop Moore in the 4A-7 final. This is Pasco's first step in what it hopes will be a return to the state semifinals.

Keep an eye on: Pasco forwards Ramon Rodriguez (31 goals) and Jose Montelongo (28 goals). The Pirates last lost Feb. 17 to Middleburg in the 4A state semifinals 5-2.

CLASS 2A

Bishop McLaughlin (13-5) at Indian Rocks Christian (6-15-2), the Eagles Nest in Largo

How they got here: Bishop McLaughlin fell in the 2A-9 championship 8-0 to Tampa Prep. IRC won the 2A-10 title with a surprising 4-0 victory over Calvary Christian. This is the Hurricanes' first playoff berth for the school. They appear to have a good chance at advancing after beating IRC twice this season.

Keep an eye on: IRC forward Jonny Sitton, who scored twice in the final after returning from a hip injury.

IF YOU GO

Time: 7 p.m.

Cost: $5

At stake: Winners advance to next week's region semifinal. Season ends for losing teams.