It looks like the best girls soccer player in Pasco County won't be playing her junior season.
Last week, Wiregrass Ranch girls coach Erin Dodd said junior scoring sensation A.J. Blount will probably scrap what's left of this season as not to re-injure her right knee where she tore her MCL and ACL during a club-soccer game in September.
"Her rehab is going great, progressing just fine, but it's not in the best interest of anyone involved to bring her back just for it happen all over again right after the fact," said Dodd, who coached the Bulls to a region final appearance last season.
Blount, who has 68 goals, 18 assists, 109 shots and 154 points in two seasons, would also need to play in four district games to be eligible for the district tournament beginning Jan. 16, and even then, it's no guarantee Wiregrass (5-3) will be one of the two region quarterfinal teams.
"The adjustment (of not having Blount) for the girls has not been as overwhelming as they thought, but every position has stepped up in her absence," Dodd said.
Junior forward Berlin Waters has carried the offensive load, leading the team with 12 goals and three assists, as the Bulls held their own with defending state champion and new district foe Steinbrenner, losing 2-0 Tuesday.
"The first goal wasn't until the second half and both teams had chances," Dodd said. "We don't know how Steinbrenner felt about us coming in, but we just wanted to play the best game we could, and now, I think we're in a great position to be in the middle of the district pack."
Bull-ieving in themselves
The boys team for the Bulls is off to a great start despite the district change. At 5-1-1, coach Dave Wilson's squad has scored 25 goals (10 by senior Danny Diaz) and given up only five with keeper Logan Jones in the net.
"I'm not surprised by this start," Wilson said. "We are very young, but solid and deep with players. Defensively, we are better than I thought."
The Bulls' two hiccups: an extra time 1-0 loss to Steinbrenner on Tuesday and a 3-3 tie with in-town rival Wesley Chapel on Nov. 8.
How do you replace 68 goals from two departing players? Spread it around.
"We're just fine," River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. "We're not relying on one person, so teams can't shut us down by double-teaming one person. If they double up on (midfielder) Sarah (Olin), then Kendra (Secrest) is open. We're even better this way."
Certainly Jenny Karl (44 goals) and Jessica Tata (24 goals) will be missed, but the Royal Knights (7-2) have had little drop-off, losing to Hudson 2-1 and Mitchell 1-0. River Ridge eyes becoming district champ after placing runner-up to Wiregrass, which is now in a different class, but it also knows Thursday's game hosting the Mustangs (8-1-1) will be telling.
"(The girls) know they have a tough road and that nothing is a given," Glover said. "We have that natural rivalry with Mitchell, but you know the teams you have to beat — all of them. If you focus too much on one, you trip over the others, but we have four teams in our district that can win it all. Mitchell, Gulf, Hudson, us — we're all in it."
Not much can top Sunlake's last season — a region final appearance, missing out on the state final four by a shootout goal and a player score 52 goals to notch more than 100 for his career.
However, the Seahawks (5-0-1) are rolling, their only hiccup a tie with in-town rival Land O' Lakes (4-1-1) on Nov. 11.
"We are where we should be, and I think we can get better as the season goes along, which was really our strength last year," said Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk, the program's only coach. "We're still trying to jell, but it will come along throughout the season."
Helping out returning junior and leading-goal scorer Conner Gilboy (10 goals, 8 assists) are two new players: a transfer from Chicago, Terry St. Onge (3 goals), and another from Steinbrenner, Kieran Harrison. In addition, new keeper Brandon Jungbauer has given up only five goals.
"We added some new players this year and they've all been able to help me and us out," said Gilboy, who had 24 goals last season. "So far we've been on a good track, and I think we'll be as good — maybe even better, than last season."