Sunlake is just where it wants to be.
Coming off a region final appearance last season, the Seahawks have started strong, including a 5-2 win over Class 3A-District 7 foe Wesley Chapel on Wednesday evening.
"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 who had it a win away from the state final four. "We're still trying to gel, but it will come along throughout the season."
Sunlake (5-0-1) has been perfect except for the 1-1 tie against in-town foe Land O' Lakes on Nov. 16, though didn't look perfect early Wednesday, finding itself in an early 2-1 hole to the Wildcats (3-3-1).
"We have 11 starting soccer players," Wesley Chapel coach Brian Dorkowski said, "after that we have athletes who are trying to do things and aren't soccer players, so we're trying to mix and match and get what works. … But we can hang with the top teams in our district — we've shown that."
The Wildcats scored just eight minutes in when Zach Mine put away a shot inside the box, but the Seahawks tied it in the 17th minute when Conner Gilboy hit Calvin Restrepo on a crossing pass. Just two minutes later Christian Monahan put away a rebound and gave the Wildcats the lead until the 38th minute.
Gilboy was awarded a penalty shot and sent the game into halftime tied 2-2.
"We made some key adjustments, and our goal is to wear them down because (Wesley Chapel) doesn't have the depth we do," Koleduk said. "I mean, we'd only given up three goals all season until (Wednesday)."
"The team seems to be gelling a lot more and our seniors were are strong point last year," Gilboy added. "With a lot of them leaving, I thought we might struggle, but it really hasn't been the case yet."
Sunlake broke the tie in 58th minute, then scored two more in the span of nine minutes. Gilboy put away his second of the game on an assist from Restrepo while the latter added Sunlake's fourth goal in the 65th minute. Two minutes later, Restrop assisted on a goal by Terry St. Onge, a transfer player from Chicago.
"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."
Sunlake was the county's top team last season, missing out on a state final four appearance by losing the shootout 4-3. However, with a core of players back, including Gilboy, one the county's top players as just a junior, lights-out defense and new keeper, Brandon Jungbauer, who's allowed just five goals in six games, the Seahawks have high expectations.
"I would say we're right there (as the top team in the county) along with Land O' Lakes and Pasco is right in the mix, too, and I think we played the fourth best team in the county," Koleduk. "Obviously we have one tough, deep district in which anything can happen during the district tournament, and with just two of those four teams moving on, we know we'll have to stay sharp to accomplish our goals this season."
Sunlake 2 3—5
Wesley Chapel 2 0—2
Goals—Gilboy 2, Restrepo 2, St. Onge (S); Mine, Monaham (W). Assists—Gilboy 2, Restrepo 2 (S). Shots on goal—S 12, W 9. Saves—Jungbauer 10 (S), Custer 4 (W). Records— S 5-0-1, W 3-3-1.