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CLEARWATER - Palm Harbor University's Eugene Starikov has spent the last two years racking up awards, but his biggest honor might be right around the corner.
Rise magazine and Gatorade named Starikov the Florida Boys Soccer Player of the Year. The senior striker automatically becomes a finalist for the National Player of the Year, which will be awarded later this month.
"It's been a privilege to coach Eugene at the high school and club level for the past two years, " PHU coach Mike Mannino said. "No matter if it's on the field or in the classroom, he walks the walk."
Gatorade established the award in 1985, and it is considered by many to be the most prestigious honor in high school athletics. Peyton Manning, Alex Rodriguez and Emmitt Smith are past national recipients.
Starikov, along with Countryside's Kyle Kuhlman, was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Adidas All-American Team in December. A two-time Times first-team all-county selection, Starikov, who moved to Palm Harbor from California after his sophomore year, led the Hurricanes to a state championship in 2006 and a runnerup finish last season. Starikov, the reigning back-to-back county scoring champ, amassed 82 goals and 22 assists in his two years at PHU.
"It will be a big loss not having his blond hair swaying all over the place and putting the ball in the back of the net next year, " Mannino said.
Casey Kotchman Seminole, 2000-01 and Dani Hofer (PHU, 2004-05) were named Gatorade National Players of the Year in baseball and softball, respectively.
Starikov will play alongside former Countryside star Griffin Gilstrap this fall at Stetson.