CLEARWATER — Countryside High School recently hosted the 30th annual Senior Soccer Challenge, and the longstanding tradition of pitting the top high school seniors from neighboring counties turned into a Hillsborough sweep — 5-0 for the girls and 5-1 in the boys’ favor.
The Pinellas boys won the previous two matchups with the Pinellas girls winning last year.
Win or lose, however, Palm Harbor University girls coach Randy Irick, who has coached in the past seven all-star games, said the Challenge is memorable way to close a high school playing career.
“Everyone has a competitive nature, but it’s fun to see them let their hair down instead of winning at all costs,” he said. “It’s the last (high school) game they’ll every play, so it’s kind of nostalgic.”
Frank Ferguson, who founded the event, said, “If you weren’t on a state championship team your last game was a loss.”
That bit of nostalgia began in 1991 when Ferguson helped unite three Seminole-area youth leagues into one and arranged for an exhibition game between Seminole USA’s under-19 team and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
After three years, however, the format switched to Pinellas vs. Hillsborough and Ferguson’s son Brian, who played at Largo, was on that first roster in 1994. In 1995, a scholarship program associated with the event was established and since then more than $130,000 has been awarded.
Allen and Cathy Weatherilt, along with Bob Bentz, have since stepped up as co-directors of the series. The Weatherilt’s sons — Matthew, Nathan and Christopher — have played in it.
“We knew how exciting it was to watch your son be the best of the best,” Allen said.
This year’s Pinellas rosters included:
Boys — Calvary Christian: Nick Griner; Clearwater: Jayder Moreno; Clearwater Central Catholic: Christian George, Vinny Minutolo; Countryside: Henry Fronckoski, Adrian Rodriguez; East Lake: Luke Matzelle, Hassan Tajeddine; Largo: Julian Hartwick, Gurami Pureliani; Osceola: Wes D’Angio, Devin Daughtry, Ian Matthews, Aaron Ristorcelli; Palm Harbor University: Justin Korner, Dimitri Marangos, Pierce Picun, Asher Rosen, Ashton Wood, Gio Yacovilleo; St. Petersburg: Harrison Stone; Seminole: Nathan Doyle.
Girls — Boca Ciega: Ameriah Miller; Calvary Christian: Riley Franck; Clearwater Central Catholic: Sophia Mellili; Countryside: Kendall Singer; Dunedin: Giselle Kinmoth, Emma Reukauff; East Lake: Mikki Hill, Katie Koncal, Marina Morris; Northeast: Delaney Hanks; Osceola: Cece Cube, Emmi Dreger; Palm Harbor University: Emma Luecke, Morgan Little, Crosby Nicholson; St. Petersburg: Anna Cubito; Seminole: Ellie Carrington, Amelia Drischler, Jocelyn Markiewicz; Shorecrest: Avery McDonough, Mylie McDonough, Taylor Register.