Schools in new districts
News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan
Osceola’s Alex Medina (9) pulls back to take a shot on breakaway against Ridge Davenport Community Thursday at Kowboys field. Medina scored on the play.
OHS boys, HHS girls may make state bids
By Rick Pedone
Girls soccer in Osceola County has been dominated by Harmony for several seasons. The Lady Longhorns have reached the state tournament and played deep into the regional tournament for the past four seasons, and they are favored again in their new district, 5A-9, against Osceola, Liberty, Celebration, Liberty, St. Cloud, Gateway Haines City and Davenport Ridge Community.
Poinciana shifts to 3A-11, with Auburndale, Hardee, Lake Wales, Sebring and Tenoroc.
New Dimensions is in A-9 with All Saints, Fort Meade, Lakeland Christian, Santa Fe and Lake Wales Vanguard.
The Lady Longhorns advanced to the regional finals last season, winning the district championship and two playoff games before losing to Polk County powerhouse Lakeland Jenkins, 5-1.
Coach Stephanie Jones, architect of Harmony’s powerhouse, lost nine seniors, including leading scorer Kaley Ward and top defender Kendall Pollock, from last year’s team, but she isn’t daunted about this year’s rebuilding job.
“I liken it to putting a puzzle together. I have the pieces, we are just trying to see how it’s all going to work,” she said.
Fortunately, several talented players are returning, including last season’s second-leading scorer, forward Miranda Lucas, and midfielder Breana Plattner.
Sarah Kingsbury and Sarah White return to help a defense that was depleted by graduation.
The good news is that forward Sage Leffew returns for her senior season after playing club ball last year.
Jones said her players are dedicated and talented, but that it will take time for the team to jell before, hopefully, another deep playoff run.
“Expectations are always high and we spend the first part of the season developing individual and team goals,” Jones said. “The players are excited about the possibilities, but also recognize that living up to expectations takes hard work. We have always stressed the importance of ‘team’ and the notion that we can go further if we work together. One of our mottos is, ‘Don’t cheat yourself; don’t cheat your team.’”
The Lady Horns blanked Liberty, 8-0, Tuesday in the season opener.
Boys Coach Scott Marlega led the Horns to the district championship last season, and even though 12 seniors graduated, he is looking forward to continued success.
“We are confident in our guys who are returning. We are looking forward to a very competitive OBC and district race this year,” Marlega said.
Back are defenders Bradly Lopez and Diego Salgado and midfielder Brandon Salgado.
Newcomers expected by Marlega to contribute are defender Kevin Ortiz and midfielder Carlos Loch.
Coach Ed Kuzma returns to lead the Lady Storm.
The team lost six starters to graduation and transfers, including three-time leading scorer Lexi Stephan.
Kuzma is counting on three returning defenders to rebuild the squad: seniors Rachel Barry and Megan Flores, and sophomore Courtney Morgan.
“Courtney was our strength on defense last year and we will look to and build on that,” Kuzma said.
Sophomore Sophia Perez returns at forward and Sophia Graves to midfield. Kuzma said five more starting positions will be filled by sophomores and freshmen, and neither of the team’s goal keepers has high school experience.
Kuzma is counting on freshmen Megan Bobola and Ahley Kuplen to play significant roles on the field while Samantha Moore will start in goal.
Kuzma welcomes former Storm player Sylvia Palermo to the coaching staff. “We are excited to have her energy on the practice field, getting in the trenches with the girls,” Kuzma said.
Kuzma said his team will develop because of the well-rounded student athletes they are.
“They are involved in multiple sports as well as the arts and school service organizations,” he said. “Our school’s IB program is well represented on our roster. That said, we have only three year-round soccer players. Our success will be determined by how quickly we can build as a team when we get our full squad out from other sports.”
Boys Coach John Prow returns for his second season. The Storm were bumped in the district semifinals last season and lost eight seniors, but Prow expects the team to be of playoff-caliber.
“We have players with experience in key spots and with talented additions we will look to be a contender in the district by the end of the season,” he said.
Senior strikers Christian Perez and Nabil Hawari, and midfielder Juan Buitron provide the firepower. The defense is led by senior Jose Sarria and sophomore keeper Johnathan Price.
Prow said the team has a promising group of underclassmen, led by freshman Brandon Betancour.
Coach Mark Ausherman returns to lead the Lady Kowboys, who seek to rebound after a disappointing campaign last season.
“We have 13 players returning from last season, with seven being starters,” Ausherman said. “Osceola expects to be a threat this season for the district championship.”
A trio of seniors, goalie Courtney Ausherman, midfielder Rosa Chavez and defender Emily Newsome, return for their third varsity season.
Senior midfielder Alysha Banres and sophomore forwards Britiny Fernandez, last year’s leading scorer, and Portia Tilley, return and should make an impact, the coach said.
Newcomers to watch, Ausherman said, include midfielders Mariela Hernandez, Megan Gordan and Arisleydi Ramirez.
Coach Tom Bell led the Kowboys to the regional finals two years ago, and he thinks this year’s team is capable of similar success.
“It’s a very coachable group of kids. The defense plays well together, and we’re working to put together an offense that suits these players,” Bell said. “We could be pretty good.”
Alex Medina will be among the team’s top scorers, Bell said.
Austin Richards and Tim Elsterman are four-year veterans. Also returning are defenders Adalraziel Santos, Josh Marsh and Jankar Solano.
“I like our district. Celebration, Ridge Davenport, Gateway and us all have won district championships, and you can’t leave out very good teams at Harmony or St. Cloud, they’ve got some good talent,” Bell said.
Eddie Fernandez begins his second season as the Lady Panthers coach.
Fernandez said he is confident that his team will give a maximum effort for each match.
“I tell my girls we put everything on the field. Every breath, second, effort and sacrificing your body for the team,” he said. “I am very proud of the team, win or lose. It’s about responsibility, dedication and perseverance.”
Fernandez has installed Barcelona’s tiki-taka ball control offense.
Yanelisse Castro, with eight goals during the team’s first five games, is the team’s primary scorer.
Ana Lozano, Yareliz Rameriz and Kristina Bobe are captains who have trained hard for this season, Coach Fernandez said.
“Playing against powerhouses like Harmony and St. Cloud will be a challenge,” he said.
Dean Oliff takes over the Panthers program after the successful tenure of Oswald Attin.
Oliff takes over a program that has some talented returning seniors such as midfielders Juan Jose Ramirez and Carlos Rojas, and defender Santiago Henao, who kicked a county-record 55-yard field goal during the football season.
Juniors displaying talent include Steven Barahona, Victor Restrepo and Osman Toro.
The Panthers return to a district against county competition after spending the past several years competing against Orange and St. Lucie county foes.
“It is definitely going to be a test for us, but I think my boys are up for the challenge and if they perform at the level which I know they are capable of, I think it will be an interesting year,” he said.
Coach Shawn Beck returns to lead the Lady Bulldogs, who should challenge for a regional playoff spot with a solid roster that lost only three starters to graduation.
The returning Bulldogs include last season’s top scorer and OBC first team member, junior Brittney Luther, as well as sophomore Jordan Gines who was second in points.
Seniors Brianna Burkard, Ashley Smith, Cynthia Hidalgo and Cady Binns also return, and Beck is counting on several newcomers to contribute.
Chris Luther and Diane Bruns are assistant coaches.
Boys Coach Weylan Craig’s roster includes seniors Sergio Rodriguez and Taylor Patton, juniors Alex Marrero, Alex Monbarren, Brandon Sanders, David Rodriguez, Milan Anderson and Oswaldo Martinez. Sophomores Blake Gentry, Chris Rodriguez, Nicolas Castillo and Trevor Rebenson also are on the roster.
Coach Blaine Bess takes over the girls program. Seniors Abigal Pierre, Andrea Giron, Heather Desensi, Jennelle Isaacs, Josephina Vega, Melissa Borja and Yesnia Reyes are among those on the roster.
John Timmerman’s boys roster boasts junior Robin Donis, the team’s leading scorer last year, and sophomore Brandon Flanagan, a club player. Seniors Zaran Qureshi, Franklin Ramos and Jalen Ortiz also return.
Coach Ryans Calmont returns to lead the Lady Eagles. Poinciana’s roster includes Heidi Gutierrez, Mirka Hernandez, Jaileen Mena and Cynthia Hernandez. Boys Coach Daniel Habel has a roster that includes Emanuel Cruz, Estefan Hnainia, Gaston Moons, Jordaire Oliver-Ruiz and Jose Hernandez.
Boys Coach Stephen Vazquez leads a squad that includes seniors Charles Van Stralendorff, Cristian Nolasco-Moran, Dakota Montez along with juniors Abdulganiyu Aregbesola, Bernadin Theodore, Dylan Smith, Estevan Ruano, Laureano Blanco and Nicolas Santos.
Kim Holt coaches the girls.