The Wharton girls soccer team may be ready for a breakthrough.
The Wildcats are off to a 7-2 start (heading into Friday’s game against Steinbrenner), with the only losses coming to Class 3A State runner-up Land O’Lakes and undefeated Palm Barhor University. Experience will be a strong suit for this year’s Wharton grads.
“We lost six seniors from last year’s (12-6-3) team, four of which went on to play in college,” head coach Denis Vukorep said. “Last year, we were still finding our identity. We had just one senior and she was injured most of the year. This year, we return all 11 starters.”
Two of those seniors are already making a charge at the school record books.
Keeper Caroline DeLisle, who recently signed with the University of Central Florida in Orlando, made 150 saves and posted six clean sheets in 2016-17. She is on pace to break the school record for career shutouts.
“The psychology of having one of the top keepers in the state back there helps us,” Vukorep said. “Teams come into the game like we’re up 1-0 already.”
Senior forward Alisha Deschenes already has the school record for goals in a season, after scoring 23 last season. Deschenes is getting some attention from smaller schools to play at the next level, and Vukorep says she’s perfectly capable of playing at the Division I-A level.
Junior midfielder Sydney Hubbard (tied for team high with eight goals to go with seven assists) pairs well with Deschenes, who has eight goals and eight assist.
“Sydney is a center-mid that’s responsible for defense who can also be creative in the attack,” Vukorep said. “She has a way of putting herself in good positions.”
Vukorep is confident Hubbard will find a D-1 school to play for at some point. At center back, towering junior Callista Ferrin pushes the six-foot stratosphere.
“She’s an intimidating figure in the back,” Vukorep said.
The Wildcats’ biggest hurdle will once again be their schedule. Their district, Class 5A, District 7, is one of the toughest in the state and every team finished with a winning record last year.
What’s changed this season? Not much — heading into Thanksgiving break, the combined record of 5A-7’s six teams was an astounding 38-6-4, and most of those losses are against each other.
The strength down the middle is the strength of the Wildcats this season; Deschenes, Hubbard, Ferrin (and DeLisle protecting the goal) form a backbone of a team looking to win its first District title since the 2010-11 season.
“This year is probably our best chance,” Vukorep said.
SHOOTING FOR ANOTHER 20
No one has been more consistent than Tommy Tonelli’s Wharton boys basketball program over the past decade or so. Last year, the Wildcats finished 20-6, the ninth straight season under Tonelli dating back to 2006-07 that they have won 20 or more games.
If Wharton is going to make it 10 straight, and make the playoffs again, the ‘Cats will have to do it with a brand new starting five.
Junior guard and captain Darin Green Jr. already has several Division 1 scholarship offers and, according to Tonelli, “is one of the top shooters in the state.”
Senior captain DJ Henderson is the projected starting point guard for the Wildcats. The third guard is sophomore Carr Thiam; Tonelli says that Thiam did a great job on JV last season and developed well over the summer.
Senior captain Ryan Anders and senior Nate Barnes are the two forwards. Barnes enters his fourth year with the program and third on varsity. Tonelli gives high marks to Anders’ strong off-season work.
The Wildcats will host the Class 8A-8 District playoffs, which may give them a needed edge.
“Seeding is going to be crucial for this year’s District tournament,” Tonelli says. “It’s definitely an advantage to be hosting it.”
Last season, Sickles hosted the tourney and cruised all the way to the State championship, handing Wharton three of its six losses last season. Former Wharton junior varsity coach Mike Weaving takes over as head coach at Sickles.
“To me, Sickles is still the team to beat,” Tonelli says. “They have three starters returning, experience, a good squad and a good coach.”
But Friday night, Wharton upset the Gryphons 44-38.
The Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Association (TBBCA) hosts a summer tournament every year and this past summer, Plant defeated Tampa Catholic in the finals.
The Wildcats won all 10 of their summer league games and made the semifinals in the tournament.
“That summer league is a pretty good gauge of where you’re going to be in the winter season,” Tonelli said.
The Wildcats are off to a 4-1 start.
STRONG DOWN THE MIDDLE:
The Wharton boys soccer team battled to a respectable 9-7-2 record last season, but will have to make do this season without its leading scorer.
Wharton will likely rely heavily on senior Jamal Farhoud, who had eight goals last season, and junior keeper Andy Ilken, who had five shutouts and a 2.24 goals-against-average as a sophomore.
Not too dissimilar to the girls squad, the Wharton boys have strength down the middle. It starts in the back with Ilken, who had 98 saves a year ago. In front of Ilken, center back Matthew Hartnell returns and senior midfielder Matthew Dookie lines up in front of Hartnell, while Farhoud returns at forward.
YOUTH TAKING CHARGE:
Head coach Chad Reed comes into his 10th year at the helm of the Wharton girls basketball team. The ‘Cats are searching for their first .500 season since 2013-14, and their first winning season since 21-5 in 2009-10.
To improve on their 6-19 mark from last season, the Wharton boys will have to overcome losing almost 50 percent of their offense to graduation. Senior guard Parker Onderko, who averaged 5 ppg last year, is expected to be a more significant factor.
The Wildcats were 3-3 heading into Friday’s game against Steinbrenner.
REBUILDING ON THE MAT:
It’s a rebuilding year for head coach David Mitchell in the wrestling room. According to Mitchell, the 2017-18 squad is the smallest group he’s ever had at the school, with eight or nine wrestlers from last season who didn’t return.
“It’s hard to get started after taking time off,” Mitchell said. “Wrestling is a year-round sport. You find you can beat a guy one year and then he’ll beat you the next year, because he didn’t take any time off.” Seniors Jonathan Gomez (195 lbs) and Gabriel Schroeder (160) will be two of the notable Wildcat grapplers this season.