The Barron Collier boys soccer team has played its way back to prominence. Now the Cougars want to end a postseason drought.
The Cougars won a district championship for the first time in eight years last week. It's the second consecutive regional berth for a program that missed the state playoffs for seven straight years after qualifying 11 out of 15 seasons from 1991 to 2005.
Barron Collier (11-5-4) hasn't won a regional game since its last district title (2005). The Cougars hope to change that tonight when they host Bradenton-Manatee (13-8-3) in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals.
"(Winning district) is a good steppingstone, but we have a whole other part of the season ahead of us," Barron Collier junior Alik Morgan said. "We have to realize that if we want to keep playing."
Six local teams begin regional play tonight, with three hosting quarterfinal games as district champions. Estero (16-5-3) welcomes Cape Coral (13-3-2) in 3A, while Community School (13-3-0) hosts Canterbury in 1A.
Three teams who finished district runner-up hit the road in regionals. Gulf Coast (14-3-3) is at Bradenton-Lakewood Ranch (16-5-4), Immokalee (16-2-4) is at Cape Coral-Mariner (16-5-5), and First Baptist (7-7-1) is at Evangelical Christian (8-8-5).
Gulf Coast hopes to go farther in this year's state tournament than last year when it made the regional finals for the first time. The Sharks, the No. 1 seed in 4A-District 12, were upset on their home field by Barron Collier in the district finals.
"Our goal still is to go and win a state championship," Gulf Coast coach Alan Scott said. "Now that we have to do it on the road, it's OK. We've been there before. We just have to work hard."
Nearby rivals Barron Collier and Gulf Coast would love to win in the first round so they can square off again in Saturday's semifinals. The Cougars lost 2-1 to Manatee in last year's quarterfinals.
Immokalee also is disappointed to have to travel for the first round. The Indians were the top seed in 3A-12, and had just one loss entering the district final. And like Gulf Coast, Immokalee wants a similar run to last year when it lost in the regional championship match.
Community School won its first district championship since switching to the winter season four years ago when the FHSAA eliminated fall soccer. The Seahawks were district runners-up the past two years, but get to host a regional game for the first time tonight.
The Seahawks play Canterbury, which they didn't play in the regular season. The key for Community School, which hasn't allowed a goal in five games, will be defense.
"(The players) are more intense this year," coach Ed Bradley said. "They know what to do, and they're really focused. We're hoping our defense will play good again."
Estero is back in regionals for the first time since 2008, also the last time the Wildcats won a district title. Estero and Cape Coral tied 2-2 in the regular season.
By finishing runner-up to Community School in 1A-10, First Baptist qualified for regionals for the first time. The Lions and Evangelical Christian tied 1-1 in the regular season.