FLN Note: We are going to do each of the four Polls as separate articles, as we go through the day. For those cynics who would say we are doing that to maximize page views . . . rest assured you are CORRECT! But it also allows us to analyze where graduations will take a toll, which is time-consuming. There were a few disagreements on our Bracket predictions, and I want to THANK those who did so! Nothing shows how much we are growing as a state, AND as a platform, then disagreement and debate. Keep it coming!
Notes on looking at this year’s Top 15:
First, as always, the defending champions get #1, regardless of what comes back. Regardless of whether that holds up or not, that’s the custom. The finalist on the losing side gets #2 and then we go from there. Remember, it’s not how you start the race, it’s where you finish, as so many Pole sitters in auto racing know all too well. This state now has over 200 teams in both Boys and Girls and the idea we will catch everything preseason, like injuries, graduations and transfers, and so on, are too much to ask for. So enjoy this as thought-provoking as much as final, and good luck to all the programs out there!
As we go into the season, remember a few things:
Referees do their best! #LayOffTheRefs
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Most of the time they will come back for more if they haven’t been exposed to it before
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1) Jupiter – the best offense in the state and solid all around; no weakness
2) Winter Park – one of the storied programs in the state’s history came alive and barely came up short of running the table
3) St. Thomas Aquinas – the Benjamin loss kept them from being co-#2
4) Lake Mary – when I looked through the entire body of work I gave them the slight edge for this spot
5t) Ponte Vedra – just like in 1A we have a complete body of work . . .
5t) Plant – and a one-goal road loss is pretty darn equal . . . great seasons for both
7) Creekside – a few tight regular season losses kept them lower, but the District win meant a lot to the state
8t) Oviedo – another situation where I had to balance the entire body of work . . the win over Lake Mary versus
8t) Newsome – win over Riverview vs three close losses to Plant as the only blemish
10) Riverview-Sarasota – wins over Berkeley Prep and Jesuit but a couple of weak efforts hurt
11) Lake Brantley – this is where it gets hard . . wins over Bishop Moore and Boone with competitive games against teams above them, with one bad loss
12) Nease – early season victory over Fleming Island and a tough schedule in a monster district . . took Creekside to the wire
13) Western – quality wins over Gulliver Prep and Boca Raton, but a big loss to STA
14) Gulf Coast – quality win over Cardinal Mooney but the rest of the schedule capped them here
15) Fleming Island – I wish I could have ranked them higher but the best win was over Forest and that wasn’t enough
Boca Raton, Mitchell, Steinbrenner, Stoneman Douglas and Windermere – none of them had a significant win that would give me reason to rank them.
Jupiter lost one game, a one-goal loss, which they avenged when it counted the most. Repeating will be difficult as they look to reload after a lot of graduations. Ryan St. Croix takes over as head coach, as Nick O’Hara will serve as an assistant this year. Max Sanderson, Tyler Douglass and Trace Hogan took 158 goals with them, while Michael Smith was 75% at the faceoff. Jackson Bashaw and Max Silver return to lead the offense. The depth of the program gets tested this year.
Winter Park came back to past glory last season with their run to the finals. They also lost a good amount of their offensive firepower in Garrett Moore, Davis Campbell, Ryan Roberts and Will Halligan. Colin Truesdale and Bronson Dowdell will take the reins and they return goalie Paul Pilgrim in goal with his 71% save percentage. The schedule is solid, but Orange County rules keep it from being better.
St. Thomas Aquinas was possibly one goal shy of their own state title run after the 8-7 regional final loss to Jupiter. The lethal weapon known as Jared Chenoy has moved on, so there will be less of an advantage on possessions. Chenoy also led the balanced attack in goals scored, but most of the goal scoring returns as seniors, as seven double digit goal scorers return. The defense also lost starters but Nico Cash and Vincent Layne return, with Wade Lamon at 59% in goal.
Lake Mary made their first Final Four since 2017 and fell just shy of the finals. Nate Gray and Brandon Perkins moved on but plenty of offense comes back, and some of it is still underclassmen. Josh Donovan, Koby White, Caden Harshbarger, Griffin Curry and Aaron Tichonoff all return as does Owen Robinson in the cage. Jesuit and Jupiter were added to the schedule this year.
Ponte Vedra’s season ended in a disappointing district loss in OT to Creekside, as the team battled injuries all season. Chris Polanski steps up to head coach and he needs to replace the offense provided by graduated Joe Tarabolletti and Freddie DiMarzo. There is plenty in the cupboard returning, with long-time starter in goal Nolan Parlette, Luke Lowery at LSM, Maddox Johnson, Will Corbett, Jack Reed and Sean Caracicciollo. Avi Israel and Lad Harper control the faceoffs. An end of season trip to Saint Andrew’s will be must-see viewing.
Plant blossomed last year with their first Final Four trip, where they ran into a Jupiter team that played their best game. Wyatt Knust and Zack Antoniou are key losses, but all of the offense is returning, led by Turner Ashby, Hayden Stoltzfoos, Hyatt Criser and Anthony Longo. Rogan Kane is strong at the faceoffs, Ryker Demarest leads the defense. Replacing Knust is the key. The schedule takes another leap up as they add Saint Andrew’s and Jupiter.
Creekside has moved to District 3 so they will likely win the automatic berth instead of an at-large, giving them a home game in the first round. The team returns most of its’ roster and that includes Zach Bender and Mana Wilhelm, both D1 recruits, as well as underrated goalie Josh Griffin. Dylan Rupprecht returns at the dot and the midfield supporting cast is deep. Jupiter has been added to an already solid schedule.
Oviedo shocked Lake Mary early in the season, then was shocked badly by Winter Park, and fell in the district final to Lake Mary, ending their best season in program history. They relied on defense and will have to do so even more since Cole Gehring and Kevin Croteau have moved on, taking with them about a 3rd of the goals scored. Jacob Thelen will take over for a squad that will feature depth. Their toughest games are on the road too.
Newsome put up a great record but didn’t play the schedule that many others did last year, and that likely hurt them when they couldn’t overcome Plant in the playoffs. Paul Johnson and Caden Kohlmeyer will be missed but the cupboard is hardly bare. Luke Haley, Shaun Blackburn and Ashton Kitchiner all return, and they are potent. Logan Sinn moved on, so the goaltending spot is wide open. The schedule is still not challenging enough.
Riverview-Sarasota loses Blake Quigley and Will Evans, their leading scorers, as well as Tyler Horiuchi from a team that played a number of close games. Kenneth Kaiser and JC Fleming will lead the way this upcoming season. The schedule is middle of the pack.
Lake Brantley’s season can be best summed up as they beat the schools they should have and didn’t beat anyone they were underdogs to. Even so, they did celebrate their Alum’s achievement at the next level! There are no statistics posted but the roster had a number of seniors, so there looks to be a rebuilding going on. Being in the same district as Lake Mary, an at-large is what they are likely looking for.
Nease gave Creekside all it could handle in the District playoff but only had one quality win over Fleming Island. There are no statistics listed here either (seems to be an issue with the Northeast that Gainesville should look into). Tyler Moltisanti, Chase Moltisanti and Gavin Koors lead the returning players and all are tested seniors. The schedule is better this year as they have added a southern swing that includes Jupiter.
Western (Davie) started slow but gained speed in the second half of the year but had no answers for St. Thomas Aquinas. There are no statistics available and a glance at the roster showed a number of underclassmen, so there could be growth coming this season. The schedule starts with a trip to Saint Andrew’s.
Gulf Coast has been a bit of a mystery the last few years, as their schedule is entirely in their area. Star Trace Davidson and Philip Scopano have graduated, leaving Quinn Hepler and Sam Shields to carry the load and looking to Luke McLain to step up. Shaden Shields holds the cage. The schedule has added a road game to Saint John Paul and a home game versus Belen Jesuit.
Fleming Island made it to the regional final last year after running an early season gauntlet of top teams. A lot of the scoring came from a talented and deep senior class, but leading scorer Will Krupsky returns. The schedule is set up in a similar fashion, but some tougher games are later on to balance it out.
I suspect that this Class will have more movement than others will. And once I got to Creekside, there was very little to differentiate from #8 on. Newsome is best on paper but how do I move them higher without a signature win? Youth at Western. Nease also needs a signature win. Oviedo will drop off, but by how much? There’s really nothing to like until I get to Mitchell, which is on the way up but very young. Columbus is intriguing but lost their two top scorers. Boone lost most of their scoring. Forest lost most of their scoring. Viera lost a lot of scoring and is still a few years away. I saw Vero Beach at Saint Andrew’s last year and was impressed but they are still a year or two from moving up.
Basically, I’m saying don’t be surprised if 9-15 fluctuates weekly!
So, without further ado, here’s the Top 15 for 1A:
Also Considered: Lake Brantley, Stoneman Douglass, Gulf Coast