The United States soccer teams each survived playing in “groups of death” during the most recent men’s and women’s World Cups.
Four of the best girls’ soccer teams in Miami-Dade County this season will have to find a way to navigate through their own “district of death.”
How good was District 16-5A last season?
South Dade, which went 18-0 during the regular season and won a GMAC championship, did not survive the first round of district playoffs.
Traditional powers such as Ferguson and Palmetto took their place and advanced to the regional playoffs.
The three teams return talented and experienced squads as does a Coral Reef team on the rise. This makes the district, which also includes Killian, Varela, Southridge and Homestead, easily the deepest in the county.
Lourdes Academy made it the furthest of any Dade team in Class 5A last season before losing in the regional finals to eventual state champion St. Thomas Aquinas. But the Bobcats graduated eight starters and 11 seniors overall.
Lourdes is still considered one of the favorites, but its status going into the season has given the residents of 16-5A hope they can contend for a deep playoff push of their own.
DISTRICT OF DEATH
Palmetto, which has not made a truly deep playoff push since 2011 when it last reached the state final four, appears to have enough to change that this season.
The Panthers return a veteran group that is healthy after five starters went down with injuries during the last season. Seniors Lauren Palavecino, a defender, Ava Gruener (21 goals, 18 assists), goalkeeper Morgan Lang and midfielder Stephany Diaz (16 goals, 24 assists) are at the forefront. Sophomore forward Emily Lamas (17 goals, 14 assists) and junior midfielder Sydney Denkert (12 goals, 22 assists) provide depth.
Ferguson lost to Lourdes in the regional semifinals and graduated some key players from that squad. But the Falcons, who are had a scoreless draw with South Dade Monday to open the season, bring back a solid core led by midfielders Nicole Rafols, a senior, and Nicole Bovo, a junior. Ferguson also should have a solid defense with senior Mariana Ramirez, junior Adanna Edwards and junior goalkeeper Savannah Ward.
South Dade started the season without senior midfielder and 2014-15 Miami Herald Player of the Year Bania Duran, who is out with an injury. The Bucs will also have to rely on several new starters after returning only three from last season.
Seniors Thalia Leal, Christy Smith, Jasmine Rosas and Johanna Diaz will all play key roles early in the season according to South Dade coach Erin Shelow.
Coral Reef, which finished third in the district last season, has a solid attack led by sophomores Tatiana Rodriguez, Paige Nunez and Bianca Mandrini. Barracudas coach Deano Nunez said defense is where the team is still young and needs to gain experience as the season progresses.
Whoever survives also has the luxury of not having to face Aquinas in the playoffs since the Raiders moved down to Class 4A following the realignment every two seasons by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The region still includes tough competition from Broward County including Cypress Bay and Taravella.
Gulliver will try to get back to state in what is a loaded Class 2A field that includes several potential breakthrough teams locally like Ransom Everglades, Carrollton, St. Brendan, La Salle, Westminster Christian and MAST.
The Raiders return several starters including senior midfielder Carina Rodriguez, senior defenders Jenna Griffiths and Nicky Martinez and one of the best goalies in junior Nina Fernandez.
Gulliver beefed up its schedule by scheduling Broward powerhouses like American Heritage and Pine Crest as well as games against Lourdes and Tampa Berkeley Prep.
Miami Country Day’s talented squad of freshmen led by Ava Hansen, Amanda Martin and Laurel Ivory are all back and hoping for a sophomore run to state in Class 1A.
Monday: Season began.
Jan. 5-6, 8: GMAC championship.
Jan. 11-16: Districts.
Jan. 21: Regional quarterfinals.
Jan. 26: Regional semifinals.
Jan. 29: Regional finals.
Feb. 3-6: State final four at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 5A: St. Thomas Aquinas; 4A: Viera; 3A: Plantation American Heritage; 2A: Jacksonville Bolles; 1A: Orange Park St. Johns Country Day.
1. Gulliver; 2. Lourdes; 3. Palmetto; 4. Ferguson; 5. South Dade; 6. Coral Reef; 7. Miami Springs; 8. Coral Gables; 9. Ransom Everglades; 10. St. Brendan.
On the rise: Carrollton, La Salle, Westminster Christian, MAST, Miami Country Day, Palmer Trinity.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
F Alyssa Deno, Miami Springs, Sr.; F Michelle Diaz-Silvera, Carrollton, Jr.; F Ava Hansen, Miami Country Day, So.; F Amanda Martin, Miami Country Day, So.; F Madison Precht, Westminster Christian, So.; M Flor Baldassini, La Salle, Sr.; M Nicole Bovo, Ferguson, Jr.; M Shelby Denkert, Palmetto, Jr.; M Bania Duran, South Dade, Sr.; M Ava Gruener, Palmetto, Sr.; M Alexandra Guixens, St. Brendan, Sr.; M Hailey Malueg, Palmer Trinity, Jr.; M Carina Rodriguez, Gulliver, Sr.; M Natalie Silberman, Lourdes, Jr.; D Jenna Griffiths, Gulliver, Sr.; D Caroline Kolski, Ransom, Jr.; D Nicky Martinez, Gulliver, Sr.; D Lauren Palavecino, Palmetto, Sr.; D Nicole Rafols, Ferguson, Sr.; GK Nina Fernandez, Gulliver, Jr.; GK Laurel Ivory, Miami Country Day, So.
OTHERS TO WATCH
FWD: Karina Bermudez, TERRA, Jr.; Sam Earle, Gulliver, Jr.; Emily Lamas, Palmetto, So.; Amy Ransom, Coral Gables, Jr.; MID: Stephany Diaz, Palmetto, Sr.; Isabella Kang, Carrollton, Sr.; Niki Molina, Lourdes, So.; Daniella Perez, Westminster Christian, Sr.; Tatiana Rodriguez, Coral Reef, So.; DEF: Katherine Inhoof, Miami Springs, Jr.; GK: Morgan Lang, Palmetto, Sr.; Briana Gomez, Miami Springs, Jr.
▪ Complete team-by-team capsules: www.miamiherald.com/ high-schools
1. LOURDES (Coach Ramiro Vengoechea, 3rd year, 41-4-4). Last year: 20-3-1 (Regional finalist). Top players: M Natalie Silberman, Jr.; M Niki Molina, So.; F Taylor Cosio, So.; F Fabi Velipokojski, Sr.; F Olivia Perez, Sr.; M Vicky Martell, Sr.
2. PALMETTO (Coach Lyndsay Segarra, 6th year, 92-16-10). Last year: 11-6-1 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: D Lauren Palavecino, Sr.; F Ava Gruener, Sr.; GK Morgan Lang, Sr.; M Stephany Diaz, Sr.; F Emily Lamas, So.; M Shelby Denkert, Jr.
3. FERGUSON (Coach Richard Lopez, 10th year, 107-38-15). Last year: 16-6-1 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: M-D Nicole Rafols, Sr.; M Nicole Bovo, Jr.; D Adanna Edwards, Jr.; D Mariana Ramirez, Sr.; F-M Teri Brimo, Jr.; GK Savannah Ward, Jr.
4. SOUTH DADE (Coach Erin Shelow, 5th year, 60-12-6). Last year: 18-1. Top players: M Bania Duran, Jr.; M Thalia Leal, Sr.; D Christy Smith, Sr.; M Jasmine Rosas, Sr.; F Johanna Diaz, Sr.; M Amber Tam, Fr.
5. CORAL REEF (Coach Deano Nunez, 2nd year, 10-4-1). Last year: 10-4-1. Top players: M Tatiana Rodriguez, So.; M Paige Nunez, So.; F Bianca Mandrini, So.; M Haley Harris, Sr.; D Hannah Cividanes, Sr.; D Brianna Delahoz, Sr.
6. CORAL GABLES (Coach Eddie Aguirre, 5th year at CG, 7th overall, 86-30-5). Last year: 21-6 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: F Amy Ransom, Jr.; D Jordan Payne, Sr.; D Yara Contijoch, Sr.; M Lauren Kerzner, Sr.; M Amy Perez, Jr.; M Brianna de la Osa, So.; M Kayla Ferra, So.
7. VARELA (Coach Arcesio Jaramillo, 1st year). Last year: 6-10. Top players: M Chelsea Schwartman, Sr.; M Harley Garcia, Sr.; D Farren Marin, Sr.; M Paz Vergara, Sr.; F Sofia Naya, Jr.; D Allison Gonzales, So.
8. CORAL PARK (Coach Manny Rodriguez, 27th year at CP, 30th overall). Last year: 10-7-1. Top players: M Maria Vega, Sr.; GK Natalie Diaz, Jr.; D Carolina Dominguez, Jr.; F Michelle Mendez, Sr.
9. AMERICAN (Coach Robert Vidal, 1st year at AM, 4th overall, 32-19). Last year: 10-7. Top players: F Evelyn Roque, So.; D Nicole Barrera, Jr.; D Marianna Usma, Jr.; G-DEF Alexis Rodriguez, Jr.
10. HOMESTEAD (Coach Brenda Gaudet, 2nd year, 6-10-1). Last year: 6-10-1. Top players: Leslie Lopez, Jr.
11. BRADDOCK (Coach Jorge Server, 6th year). Last year: 4-11-2. Top players: F Nicole Calder, So.; M Jillian Falcon, So.; GK Diana Valdes, Jr.
1. TERRA (Coach Monica D. Mejia, 6th year, 47-23-6). Last year: 15-4. Top players: F-M Karina Bermudez, Jr.; F-M Sofia Aviles, Jr.; M-GK Cristina Bichara, Jr.; D-M Vivian Calderon, Sr.; M Alexandra Pepin, Sr.; M Kaitlyn Ritter, Jr.
2. MATER ACADEMY (Coach Luis Sanchez, 12th year at MA, 17th overall, 186-114-33). Last year: 15-7-1. Top players: M-F Julissa Benitez, Sr.; M-F Amanda Diaz, Fr.; D Karla Vargas, Fr.; D Sarah Leon, So.; GK Madison Delucca, 8th; M-D Emily Tercero, So.
3. CENTRAL (Coaches Katherine Madriz/Jennifer Amores, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: F Jacqueline Medina, Jr.; F Ruth Alvarez, Jr.; D Antonia Gonzalez, Sr.; M Noemi Alvarez, Jr.; M Tania Rivera, So.; D Jennifer Bravo, Jr.
MIAMI SPRINGS (Coach William Drew, 16th year at MS, 32nd overall, 253-61-26). Last year: 20-4-1 (Class 4A regional semifinalist). Top players: M-F Alyssa Deno, Sr.; GK Briana Gomez, Jr.; D Katherine Inhoof, Jr.; M-F Sophia Gomez, Jr.
1. GULLIVER (Coach Andrew Vassell, 2nd year at GUL, 4th overall). Last year: 17-1 (Regional finalist). Top players: D Jenna Griffiths, Sr.; M Carina Rodriguez, Sr.; GK Nina Fernandez, Jr.; M Monica Zambian, Jr.; F Sam Earle, Jr.; M Karina Northland, Sr.
2. RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Greg Noblet, 8th year, 82-68-16). Last year: 15-4-3 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: D Caroline Kolski, Sr.; M Sophia Petros, Sr.; M Tiffany McBrayer, So.; F Jacqueline Kirk, Jr.; D Olivia Burke, Sr.; M Hunter Matson, So.
3. ST. BRENDAN (Coach Adalberto Jordan, 9th year, 93-65-16). Last year: 16-5-1. Top players: M Alexandra Guixens, Sr.; M Katerina Alvarez, Sr.; F Alexandra Dussaq, Jr.; F Kate Lopez, Sr.; F Mercedes Cordovi, So.; M Adriana Diaz, So.
4. CARROLLTON (Coach Eric Vasquez, 1st year). Last year: 11-7-1 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: M Isabella Kang, Sr.; M Sydney Sariul, So.; M Virginia Moscetti, Fr.; F Ana Bohorquez, So.; F Michelle Silveira, Jr.; GK Olivia Velez, Sr.
5. LA SALLE (Coach Gamy Lozano, 2nd year at ILS, 10-7). Last year: 10-7. Top players: M Flor Baldassini, Sr.; F Karina Santin, Jr.; M Shayna Welsh, Jr.; D Marie Muniz, Jr.
6. WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Jason Kirk, 2nd year, 9-5-3). Last year: 9-5-3. Top players: F Madison Precht, So.; M Daniella Perez, Sr.; M Maite Gutierrez, So.; D Jessica Palma, Sr.; M Kelly Rico, Sr.; D Nicole Boulris, Sr.
7. MAST ACADEMY (Coach Ossie Morales, 18th year). Last year: 13-6-6. Top players: D Kayla Pineda, Sr.; D Sarah Widell, Sr.; GK Emily Franco, Jr.; M Maria Garcia, Jr.
8. MONSIGNOR PACE (Coach Nenad Babic, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: F-M Juliette Dubon, Sr.; GK Grace Li, So.; M Julie Quintero, Jr.; D Aida Rivera, Jr.
1. MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Kyllene Weiss, 8th year). Last year: 24-4 (State semifinalist). Top players: GK Laurel Ivory, So.; F Amanda Martin, So.; M-F Ava Hansen, So.; M Yakira Matisonn, So.
2. PALMER TRINITY (Coach Philip Gentles, 3rd year, 30-17-2). Last year: 13-11-1 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: M Victoria Rosales, Jr.; M Hailey Malueg, Jr.; F Sofia Rivas, Jr.; M Tianna Schiappa-Pietra, Jr.; D Paula Gutierrez, Jr.; F Kassie Fortis, Jr.
3. SCHECK HILLEL (Coach Karyn Bishof, 1st year). Last year: 7-1-7. Top players: F Alexandra Gelman, 8th; M Sandra Feld, Jr.; M-F Ali Wolf, Jr.; M Simi Serfati, So.; F-D Kylie Cohen, 7th; F-M Rachelle Murciano, So.
4. HEBREW ACADEMY (Coach Jaime MacDonald, 1st year at HA, 4th overall, 12-3-2). Last year: 0-9. Top players: D-M Sol Chambi, Sr.; D Sharon Alfendary, Sr.; F Gittee Benhamou, Jr.; F Melanie Arogoutei, Jr.; D-M Shirley Greenstein, So.; D Tamar Kanter, Sr.