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Smaller field to alter Land O'Lakes' style

Seminole's field will help contain the Gators' offense and challenge its defense.

By LINDA ROTHSTEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Land O'Lakes' toughest opponent in tonight's Class 3A, Region 3 semifinal at Seminole (18-5-4) might not be the team, but the field.

The Pinellas County squad plays on a minimum regulation-sized field, which, mandated by the Florida High School Activities Association, is 50 yards wide and 100 yards long. The only problem is that Pasco County schools play on fields up to 15 yards longer in both directions. The Gators will have to modify their style of play to accommodate the smaller field, which isn't easy during the regional tournament.

"That kind of takes away from the way we like to play," Land O'Lakes coach Mark Pearson said. "We like to open up and spread it around and pass the ball."

Seminole hopes to make Land O'Lakes pay for whatever mistakes it might make on the smaller field.

"We have to play with intensity, we have to punish teams when they make a mistake, and we have to dominate the midfield," Seminole coach Rick Masi said.

The Gators (25-5-1) have tried to compensate by practicing situations that could become scoring opportunities on the smaller field, such as long throw-ins, free kicks and corner kicks.

"We have to adapt," Pearson said. "These teams with the short, narrow fields, they throw these long throw-ins, which look long because the field's so narrow. And we have to defend against that, which is something we don't typically do during the year."

The Gators have a record-tying 25 wins going into tonight's game and keeper Greg Kline has a record-breaking 18 shutouts, eclipsing last year's 15. Land O'Lakes is ranked No. 2 in the state by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association and until its district-final loss to Countryside two weeks ago, was ranked 13th in the nation by Fox Student Sports. For the past two seasons, Land O'Lakes is undefeated at home and hasn't lost two games in a row in three years.

But the most important record the Gators are working on is making it to the state final four for the third consecutive year. Getting to the final four, so far, has been harder than in years past. The last two years, Land O'Lakes advanced as a district champion, playing at least the regional quarterfinal at home.

But as runners-up in the district this year, the Gators have had to play on the road, turning the crowd and the field conditions into additional factors Land O'Lakes has to overcome in order to win.

"This year we put ourselves in a bad position by having to play away all the time," Pearson said. "But the boys have accepted that and we played very strong, with a lot of heart, a lot of passion in the game against Plant (in the region quarterfinals)."

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