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    Clearwater teams carry county’s hopes

    Clearwater Central Catholic’s boys and girls, and Clearwater High's boys will play today.

    [Times photo: Jill Sagers]
    Junior Kristin Leyshock practices at goalie with the Clearwater Central Catholic girls soccer team on Tuesday. The team plays in Tallahassee today.

    By RODNEY PAGE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- It's up to Clearwater to uphold Pinellas County's soccer reputation. Of the more than 40 county teams that started the high school season, only three are still playing and they're all from here.

    The state tournament is down to the final four, with the girls playing in Tallahassee and the boys in Tampa. Both the girls and boys teams from Clearwater Central Catholic have qualified in Class A. In Class 3A, Clearwater High is making its first final four appearance in more than 10 years.

    This is the fourth time both Marauders teams have made it to the final four.

    CCC's boys have won eight state titles and are 20-7-3 this year. The girls have three state crowns and are 23-2. In 1997, both teams won a state championship.

    "Everyone around here takes pride in our soccer teams," CCC principal Sister Mary Dion said. "We don't ever take them for granted."

    Clearwater's boys team also advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1988. It has never won a state championship.

    "I think it shows we play some pretty good soccer around here," Clearwater forward Brandon Taylor said of the city's representation at the state tournament.

    The success of the area high schools can be traced to the local club teams. The Clearwater Chargers and Countryside Lightning have been producing state and national championship teams for nearly 20 years.

    Not all of the club's players go to Clearwater or CCC. Palm Harbor University High School's girls team has won two state championships in its five-year history, thanks mostly to Clearwater-area club players.

    East Lake, Countryside and Tarpon Springs all have enjoyed recent success with Clearwater and Countryside club players.

    CCC boys coach Jim Harte started coaching club soccer in the late 1970s. He said competition and dedication created the stable club programs.

    "It really all started in 1977 with the Seminole Strikers," Harte said. "They were the club team. They set the bar. Then along came the Clearwater Chargers, and they gave Seminole some competition. And then came the Countryside Lightning and raised the bar even further. It's that club competition that has made for better soccer in this area."

    Harte also has an advantage with his Jim Harte Marauder Soccer Camp, a series of six one-week summer camps at the CCC campus. Nearly 80 kids participate in the camp each week, and many end up attending CCC.

    Clearwater was down in soccer for most of the '90s. But the boys team has made a resurgence the past three years. Under coach Steve Lindsay, Clearwater won district championships in 1999 and 2000.

    Lindsay was replaced this season by Bruce Toscani, who guided the Tornadoes to a third straight district championship.

    "There was a lot of talent when I got here," Toscani said. "I didn't think we'd lose a game (the team is 20-5-4). And we should be even better next year."

    Clearwater's success has created a buzz around campus. It is not as large as some other established sports, such as football and basketball, might create, but the players are enjoying the moment.

    "There's a little excitement," Clearwater midfielder Mike Martino said. "Some of my teachers who don't normally follow soccer are congratulating me. Some of my friends are happy for us. I hope we get a big crowd (today), but it isn't like we're the football team."

    To get there

    The Clearwater High and Clearwater Central Catholic boys teams will play a doubleheader at Tampa's Pepin-Rood stadium tonight. In the first game, CCC plays Plantation American Heritage at 6 p.m. At 8, Clearwater takes on Fort Walton Beach Choctawatchee. The CCC girls team will play Plantation American Heritage at 1 p.m. at the Florida State University soccer complex. Admission is $6.

    To Pepin-Rood: From Interstate 275, take the Ashley Street exit to W Kennedy and turn right. Turn right on North Boulevard. The stadium is on the right.

    To FSU soccer complex: Take Interstate 75 north to I-10 west. Take exit 31. Go west on Highway 90 to Monroe Street. Take a left and go south on Monroe to Jefferson Street. Take a right (becomes Pensacola Street) and follow to Chieftan Way into campus. The soccer field is on the left, directly across from Tully Gymnasium.

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