BRADEN RIVER — Christian Lizardi will never forget the first time he and the rest of the Braden River boys soccer team faced Lakewood Ranch.
It was two years ago when the Pirates played host to the Mustangs in front of a packed stadium. Braden River surprised both itself and Lakewood, tying the Mustangs 2-2.
The Pirates will have plenty of opportunities to face the Mustangs this season as the two teams now find themselves in the same district.
The Pirates and Mustangs are now in Class 4A-District 10. In addition to a new district, the Pirates also are adjusting to a new coach.
“It’s different, but it’s a nice change,” Michael Esteban said. “It’s definitely got everybody on their toes.”
Janjay Gehndyu, a 2002 graduate of Lakewood, assumed the position about a month ago. Gehndyu brings a wealth of experience to the position, having played four years of collegiate soccer.
“This is a very experienced and seasoned team, and we want to have 11 guys willing to sacrifice every game for the team,” Gehndyu said.
The Pirates will open their 2009 season Nov. 17 at home versus Bayshore.
Across the field, the Lady Pirates are looking to build upon their best season in school history in which they captured their first district title and advanced to the regional finals.
“They did some unexpected things,” coach Kevin Bates said. “They went as deep as they possibly could in the region, and they did quite well.”
After last season’s district championship, the Lady Pirates have high expectations for this season.
“We want to hold on to our title,” Rachel Hasson said.
However, the Lady Pirates know that reaching the district finals won’t be easy: Three of the six remaining teams in their district advanced to the regional tournament, including former district foe Palmetto.
After losing several key players to graduation, the Lady Pirates will look to Lauren Bates, Amber McCullock, Hasson and Ashley Nelson for leadership.
“We’re going to miss them, but we’ve got good replacements this year,” Bates said.
The Lady Pirates will open their district season Nov. 10 at Palmetto.
Every year, Lakewood Ranch High girls soccer coach Guy Virgillio has two goals for his players: Win the district and to go further than they did the year before.
Last season, the Lady Mustangs finished as the Class 5A-District 12 runner-up and went on to defeat Osceola in the regional quarterfinals.
Now after moving down to Class 4A, Virgillio has high expectations for the Lady Mustangs.
“I think we have a good chance of (winning the district),” Virgillio said.
Kaitlyn Kerrigan agreed.
“This team has a ton of potential,” she said. “If we keep winning and developing then I think we’re going to have a really good season.”
The Lakewood boys team also has high expectations after winning a district title and advancing to the regional semifinals last season.
“Every year brings new challenges and new teams,” coach Vito Bavaro said. “You never know who is going to come out and who the top teams are going to be.”
With the core of their team still in tact, the Mustangs will once again rely on their defense to carry them throughout the season. Lakewood will open its season Nov. 11 versus St. Pete Catholic.
“We went farther than expected last year, so we have big expectations this year,” Alex Martin said.
THE OUT-OF-DOOR ACADEMY
ODA’s girls soccer team pleasantly surprised itself and coach Jamie Rubens last season.
After finishing as the district runner-up for the second-consecutive season, the Lady Thunder won their first-ever regional quarterfinal.
“I was really proud of the improvements they made as a team,” Rubens said of last year.
The Lady Thunder will face several tough opponents this season, including district rival Saint Stephen’s.
ODA will open its season Nov. 17 versus Cambridge.
The ODA boys team is also coming off its best season in school history having finished as the district runner-up.
With 16 players returning this season, coach Dave Hawkes has high expectations for his team.
“Hopefully, we can win the district finals and anything after that is a bonus for the club and especially for the school,” Hawkes said.
The Thunder will open their season Nov. 16 versus Cambridge.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].