- April 22, 2010
The regular season kicks off Sept. 2, but it will be another one to four weeks before the grind really begins.
That’ll be the time when Braden River, Lakewood Ranch and The Out-of-Door Academy will get their first taste of district action — and their new opponents.
Earlier this year, the Florida High School Athletic Association unveiled new district classifications. As expected, the Pirates, Mustangs and Thunder all moved up. Translation: The district rivalries we’ve come to know are gone. ODA no longer play will rival Bradenton Christian, and Lakewood will no longer see its playoff hopes come down to the wire against Palmetto.
ODA saw the least amount of change in its district, and Lakewood finds itself in entirely unfamiliar territory. And as for the Pirates, they’ve landed in familiar territory alongside some of the nation’s elite.
Of all the district scenarios, Braden River coach Don Purvis never expected his Pirates to be thrust into what has been dubbed the “Black and Blue District.”
But that’s exactly what happened when Braden River jumped from Class 3A-District 10, where it finished as the district runner-up to Southeast, to Class 7A-District 10. Now the Pirates find themselves in the same district as Manatee, Venice and Sarasota.
“I really didn’t see it coming,” Purvis said. “We’re excited about the challenge, though. We know the best programs in the area are in our district, and to be the best, eventually, you’ve got to beat the best.”
Manatee and Venice finished as last year’s Class 5A-District 10 champion and runner-up, respectively, with the Hurricanes advancing to the state semifinals before eventually losing to Saint Thomas Aquinas.
The Pirates will play five games, including rival Lakewood Ranch, to open the season before facing their first district test on the road Oct. 7 at Manatee. Two weeks later, Braden River will host former coach Ed Volz’s Sarasota Sailors before hosting Venice the following week to close the district season.
Class 7A-District 10 should prove to be the toughest district in the area. The Pirates will need to win at least two of their district games to have a shot at advancing to the regional playoffs.
There’s something to be said for the unknown. Other teams don’t know your strengths and weaknesses. They don’t know you’re capabilities.
Lakewood Ranch coach Shawn Trent is hoping the unknown ultimately will play to his team’s advantage this season in a new district.
The Mustangs leapt from Class 4A-District 11, where it faced Palmetto, Charlotte and Port Charlotte, to Class 6A-District 7. Now, Lakewood finds itself alongside five new teams in Boca Ciega, Tarpon Springs, Dixie Hollins, Largo and Seminole Osceola.
“It’s exciting, though, going up against five teams you’ve never played before, but at the same time, it’s the not knowing,” Trent said. “They have no idea what we’re going to bring to the table.”
The Mustangs open their district season Sept. 23 at Boca Ciega, but Lakewood will face its biggest test Oct. 28, when it travels to Largo to take on the six-time district champion Packers. Lakewood also could face a challenge from last year’s Class 4A-District 6 runner-up, Tarpon Springs.
But with the majority of its roster returning, including a veteran offensive line, the Mustangs have the weapons to put themselves in the playoff picture.
“Largo is the team to beat up there along with Tarpon Springs,” Trent said. “Those should be our biggest two games in terms of what the past represents.”
If there’s one advantage The Out-of-Door Academy will have this season, it’s familiarity. Of the new districts, the Thunder saw the least amount of change, with six teams from last year’s Class 1B-District 6 moving up to Class 2A-District 6.
At eight teams, Class 2A-District 6 is by far one of the largest districts in the state, encompassing teams from Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, Collier and Glades counties. The biggest shake-up to the district has been the elimination of rival Bradenton Christian.
“That’s the one thing I regret out of the whole deal,” Timmons said. “We couldn’t find a week where we could play each other.”
In addition, the district also will feature a pair of new schools in the Community School of Naples and First Baptist Academy.
ODA will open its district season Sept. 9 versus the Community School of Naples, but the Thunder will face its biggest test Sept. 30, when ODA hosts 2010 district champs Evangelical Christian. ODA will close out its season with a pair of rival games at Saint Stephen’s and Cardinal Mooney.
“I like having familiarity,” Timmons said. “All of us know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. On any given Friday night, you get the sense and the comfort in knowing that from Week Two to Week 10, you’re going to be in a dog fight.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
Braden River Pirates Lakewood Ranch Mustangs Out-of-door Academy Thunder