Defense sparks Hurricanes boys soccer turnaround


Gainesville High School Varsity soccer goalie Zach Adams does drills with assistant coach Ken Alaimo Wednesday afternoon at the team's practice field at GHS.

Brandon Kruse//The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 11:40 p.m.

Even Gainesville High School boys soccer coach Jeremy Witt can’t explain what’s different about his team this year, he just knows something is.

After compiling just eight wins over the last two seasons, the Hurricanes enter tonight’s Region 1-5A quarterfinal against Bartram Trail at Citizens Field with an 18-5-5 record.

“We’ve just been able to play big in some of the close matches this year,” Witt said.

The season marks the first time Witt has coached the team full time in the last three years. After taking a season off two years ago after his wife gave birth to twins, Witt eased back into the role last year. One of his first tasks entering this season was to redo a defensive backfield that was thin after losing several seniors.

The decision was moving senior Zach Adams back to goalie. Witt brought Adams up to the varsity as a freshman. As a sophomore, Adams split time at keeper before approaching Witt in the summer before his junior year.

“He said his body was beat up from all of the years playing keeper,” Witt said. “He said he played in the field with his club team and wanted to do it with us for his junior year.”

Adams was in the field for most of his junior campaign before agreeing to go back into goal for the final five matches. With Adams back between the posts, the Hurricanes won three of five games. At that point, they agreed leaving Adams in goal was best for the club.

The goalie has come up big for the Hurricanes in several close matches this year. The team swept through the district tournament, winning all of its matches by one goal and taking the championship over Ocala Vanguard in a 100-minute match that ended in penalty kicks.

Adams was also named the Most Valuable Player of the Bobcat Invitational earlier this month. In the tournament, the Hurricanes went 3-1 and didn’t allow a goal until the final match en route to the black division championship.

Another change came when Witt placed Adams’ best friend, and fellow senior,

Michael O’Connor back at sweeper. Despite leading the team in goals the previous two seasons, the addition of O’Connor in the backfield has primed the team’s defense.

“Zach is the one that keeps everybody under control and keeps everybody in the right place,” Witt said. “But adding Michael back there, since the two are so close and came up together to the varsity as freshmen, has really been good for the defense.”

Tonight at Citizens Field, the Hurricanes and their four senior starters will look to end the streak of Jacksonville Bartram Trail. The pre-game festivities started earlier in the week when the Gainesville boys team traveled to Jacksonville to see the girls' team take on Bartram in the regional semifinals. Although the GHS girls lost, the boys came back with plenty of motivation.

“There’s already been some bulletin board material on some soccer Web sites,” Witt said. “Some Bartram Trail guys are calling our guys out, saying that Jacksonville soccer is better than Gainesville soccer. We want to dispel that rumor.”

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