By Kyle LoJacono
There’s a new boys soccer powerhouse in the area, and it inflicts its damage while donning teal and black.
Sunlake has dominated its competition early this season, jumping out to a 5-0 start while outscoring its opponents 32-2.
Things have started so well for the Seahawks, coach Sam Koleduk has had to deal with a completely different set of challenges.
In previous seasons, Koleduk, the only coach in the program’s six-year history, the goal was to build confidence in his players that they could beat top-flight programs like Land O’ Lakes and Pasco, both Class 3A-District 7 opponents.
“Now it’s about staying focused is our biggest deal,” Koleduk said. “Not getting overconfident because some of the other teams took a step back and we took a step forward.”
Rewind a few years and Sunlake was just fighting to make a name for itself.
“In the beginning we weren’t really expected to do anything my freshman year,” said senior Conner Gilboy. “Then two years ago we went to the regional final, elite eight in the state, that really showed us what we could do. That really installed a sense of winning tradition. Then last year we won districts, and now this year we believe we have what it takes to be No. 1 in the district and go deep in the playoffs.”
Koleduk said he thinks the program has been able to develop faster than even he expected based completely on being in an area rich with soccer talent.
“Now at tryouts we have 60 to 70 club players.,” Koleduk said. “Now we’re having to cut club players, which is a good problem and a bad problem. You hate to cut anyone, but the numbers and talent have gone up and so has the confidence in what we can do each year.”
Part of that confidence comes from the 5-0 start, but has even more to do with what Sunlake has done the last two seasons.
The Seahawks made the playoffs for the first time in 2010 and took another step last year winning their first district championship by defeating Land O’ Lakes. It was the first time Sunlake defeated the Gators.
“Beating them for the district title was huge for us confidencewise,” Koleduk said. “That was the first time we’d beaten them, and it was our first district championship; but then again, they did beat us pretty good in the region semifinal to move on a couple weeks after.”
The Seahawks won their first matchup with Land O’ Lakes this season, a 3-2 victory.
Gilboy said trying to compete with their cross-town rival has been a big factor in his squad’s ascendance.
“It’s a huge rivalry for us,” Gilboy said. “They’ve been so good, but now we’ve been able to beat them shows that we’ve got what we need. … It’s not just a sense of town pride anymore. It’s just about skill pride and who can win. Before, we just wanted to beat them because they’re Land O’ Lakes. Now we want to beat them because it’s for that top spot in the district, and because they’re Land O’ Lakes.”
A big strength for Sunlake has been putting up goals in bunches.
“We’ve got some really good goal scorers in Gilboy (12 goals), Connor Spencer (eight goals), Austin Goble (four goals) and Jared Landry (two goals),” Koleduk said. “If you have one goal scorer now you’re lucky, and we’ve got three or four. … If they mark Gilboy, he’ll get three or four assists because he’s fine with passing.”
Goble said being a midfielder with forwards like Spencer and Gilboy makes getting assists easy.
“Our forwards are really good,” Goble said. “When they work together they’re hard to stop.”
The Seahawks have also picked up a big addition with freshman goalkeeper Danny Hrenko.
“He plays on the Lutz Rangers U15 team, which is one of the best teams in the state,” Koleduk said. “He’s amazing with his feet, so we’re able to play the ball back to him at any time. Brandon (Jungbauer), our senior, was always good, but Danny is like another defender.”
Hrenko said his defense helped him ease into high school soccer by letting up only one shot in the first four games.
“I haven’t seen a lot of shots,” Hrenko said. “We’ve got a good defense, and that brings my confidence up because I’m young and don’t really know what I’m doing.”
Hrenko is also part of a young core for Sunlake, which has only three senior starters.
“We have a good two or three years together, so that’s really exciting,” Hrenko said.
Pasco hosts the 3A-7 tournament Jan. 22 to 25, with the final Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.
Sunlake hosted district rival Wesley Chapel Nov. 26, but results were not available by press time. The Seahawks play Pasco at home Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker