SOUTHWEST ORANGE The 2015-2016 varsity soccer season has arrived with regular season play having started earlier this month.
Six varsity teams will take the field representing the coverage area’s four high schools this winter with hopes ranging from simply improving from a season ago to reaching the state playoffs and beyond.
The following is a school-by-school preview of what to watch for on the pitch this season.
The Dr. Phillips girls soccer team is coming off of the best season in its history.
The 2014-2015 campaign was a season that saw the Panthers finish 15-3-2 and set a program record for winning percentage (.833), most shutouts (14) and fewest goals allowed (9). Individually, senior forward Shae Vevera now owns the school record for goals in a game (7) and season (33).
Dr. Phillips also had a program-record 12-game winning streak to highlight its phenomenal run.
Joel Dobrowolski coached the team to the success it had but this year has returned to coaching the Panthers’ boys team. Now, Ashley Womack, who was an assistant coach the past two years, is at the helm and looking to build off of last season’s success.
“The girls really came together to play as a team (last winter),” Womack said. “They started to believe in each other for the first time and I think they started to believe in the program for the first time, which brought their season around and ultimately brought the entire program around.”
Though there were some important departures from last year’s squad via graduation, including lockdown goalkeeper Sarah Kollas, the Panthers’ leading goal-scorer is back in Vevera — as well as several other seniors.
“We have a lot of seniors, which means they’ve played together for a long time,” Womack said. “So they want to do well, they believe in each other.”
The girls team is 1-2 as of Nov. 9.
On the boys’ side, Dr. Phillips will look to improve upon a season that saw it 4-11-5, ultimately falling to Olympia in the district tournament. With Dobrowolski in his second stint leading the boys program, the Panthers have raced out to a 2-0-2 mark so far this fall — including a 1-1 tie against district rival West Orange Nov. 4.
Lou Romao isn’t bashful about how good he thinks his team will be this winter.
Romao, who has been the head coach for the Olympia boys soccer program for four years, has several players back from his 2014-2015 team that finished 12-5-5 and a few key newcomers. Most importantly, though, is the depth he says he has available to him.
“Our bench players could pretty much start on our team,” Romao said. “We have so much depth and our defense is strong, our midfield is strong, our offense is strong, our goalie’s strong—we’re strong overall. … I do believe this is the best high school soccer team I’ve ever coached here and one of the best teams I’ve ever had period.”
Of course, for Romao’s Titans to attain the success they hope for they will have to go through rival West Orange, which advanced to the state title game last season and has dominated the district in recent years.
“They’re obviously the team to beat,” Romao said of the Warriors. “Even though I think we’re better this year, I still don’t think that we’re the better team until you beat the better team.”
Brand new to the Sunshine State, Deepak Shivraman is the new coach for Olympia’s girls program after coaching in Michigan for 26 years.
Shivraman inherits a program that went 11-6-2 last year but that will have to contend with the likes of West Orange — which ended Olympia’s season in the district tournament this past January —and Apopka if it hopes to emerge from the district. Though still fairly new to the team, Shivraman has been appreciative of the leadership from captains Hannah White and Sam Hilsey.
“They lead by their work ethic,” Shivraman said.
Shivraman says the GPS in his car has been his best friend since moving to Florida as he learns the terrain, but to his credit he already understands one of the more important parts of being a Titan.
“Based on what the kids are telling me, Dr. Phillips is (our rival) because of proximity,” Shivraman said. “It’s always a rivalry across the board for most of the sports.”
Both Windermere Prep soccer teams experienced notable success during the 2014-2015 campaign — with the boys team advancing to the regional playoffs and the girls team amassing 18 wins.
Both teams also graduated several seniors who were important to that success, meaning new faces will be asked to step this winter.
“We graduated a few good seniors, so we have some younger players this year that are kind of moving into the program — a lot of freshman and a couple eighth graders,” Lakers girls coach Greg Stone. “So we’re young, but we have some talent as well.”
Stone, in his ninth season, figures his team will thrive on its defense this time around. The Lakers are dealing with some early-season injuries and also the move from Class 1A to Class 2A, meaning a presumably higher level of competition.
“We have Danielle Hercules that’s going to be kind of a key player for us in the defense and Emily Begovich is a midfield defender that should be a strong player for us this year as well,” Stone said.
For Windermere Prep’s boys, Jonathan Griffiths steps into the role as head coach for his first season. Off to a 1-1 start already, Griffiths sees this year as a bit of a rebuilding campaign that will depend on how younger players come along.
“We’ve only got four seniors on our team right now, so it’s a rebuilding season,” Griffiths said. “Defensively we are set up well, and we (have) got quick pace going forward.”