TAMPA - Ask just about anyone associated with the Tampa Prep soccer program and they'll probably tell you there was something very special about the boys' team that won last year's Class 2A state championship.
True, the Terrapins were tested in the state final four, winning their semifinal and the title match by 1-0 scores. But in the minds of the players and coaches of that squad, there was never any doubt of the final outcome.
"Last year, I think we knew from the get-go we were going to win the state," said senior Ryan Griffin, who has won nearly every individual prep award imaginable, as well as state cup crowns with his club team, Real Salt Lake. "There was so much depth, talent and experience, especially on our defense. It was just ridiculously stacked."
Not that the 2007-08 model of Terrapin boys soccer is shabby. The squad is, after all, 22-2-2, has outscored opponents 84-17 and is expected by many to reach the final four in Fort Lauderdale once again. The Terps won their district and will host Academy at the Lakes on Thursday in the Class 2A-3 regions.
But if the Terps hoist the state championship trophy for the third time in four years, they likely will have to work a little harder for it this time around.
Coach Jose DaCosta still has a good core of quick, technically solid players from last year's squad. And he says this team is a tad quicker than the last one. But he's had to shift some of his players to new positions, places some of them have not played in a while. And some of those changes might puzzle the casual observer.
Why, for example, would you take the 6-foot-2 Griffin, who scored 34 goals and had 39 assists from his forward spot last season, and move him to defensive midfield? And why replace him up top with a pair of fairly inexperienced strikers?
The answer to that one can be found in the fast feet of sophomore Wes Sever, who has rebounded from an injury-plagued campaign last season to score 33 times this season; and an emerging freshman talent, Jake Peterson, who has seven assists and one goal.
Of course, the creation of those scores comes from the midfield. And that's where the Terps are extremely solid. With junior Alex Tuch pressing forward with the ball from the middle of the field and Anthony Baumann streaking down the wing, Sever says "all I have to do is run into open spaces" and, there's the ball waiting to get knocked into the goal.
The two midfielders have not only combined for 34 assists, they've also gone even deeper into the attack to score 20 goals.
"Alex Tuch is just unbelievable - he's our engine," DaCosta said. "He runs our entire game. And with Anthony on the wing, it's a lot for the opposition to deal with."
Despite playing more of a defensive role, Griffin has still managed to get to the other side of the field to register 13 goals and 14 assists.
Anchoring it all in the back is four-year starting goalkeeper Brad Sienkiewicz. Like Griffin, he is going for his third ring and believes this squad must remain focused to earn it.
"The guys we lost to graduation, they were great but they aren't coming back," Sienkiewicz said. "Every year, every team is different and this time, we've found a way to come together with a lot of hard work and unselfishness."
Reporter Bill Ward can be reached at (813) 259-7456