Just as they did a year ago, the Cape Coral Seahawks go to the District 3A-11 Tournament unbeaten and the No. 1 seed, drawing a first-round bye into the semifinal round at Mariner.
The similarities between this year's Seahawks and last year's team that went on to capture the Class 4A state title are striking. Many of the current players instrumental in that state title run are back for another try.
"It'll be a challenge to win the district," said Seahawks coach Aldo Nardiello. "We just hope we don't lose the district championship game this time, that's where the similarities end."
The Seahawks (17-0-2) face the survivor of the Lemon Bay-Cypress Lake first-round test in the semifinal round on Wednesday.
In other first-round games on Monday, No. 6 Island Coast meets No. 3 South Fort Myers at 5:30 p.m., followed by No. 7 North Fort Myers and No. 2 Mariner at 7:30 p.m. Lemon Bay and Cypress Lake open the tournament at 3:30.
If the top seeds advance, as expected, it will be a Cape Coral-Mariner final on Friday night.
"The Tournament is a new start for everyone," said Nardiello. "Records don't matter in our rivalry with Mariner because they know us best and it's a traditional rivalry. We must get past our semifinal opponent first."
Nardiello still thinks the Seahawks have room to improve every aspect of their game.
"You have to take it up a notch in the postseason," he said. "You really don't think about going unbeaten at the start of the season. Maybe when you get eight or nine wins it can become another goal to reach. It's motivation for the team to stay undefeated, but it's also motivation for every opponent to beat you."
The District 4A-12 tournament also begins Monday, but with the higher seeded team hosting each game.
No. 4 seed Ida Baker hosts No. 5 Fort Myers at 7 p.m. Monday. The winner advances to the semifinals on Wednesday at No. 1 seed Gulf Coast.
The other semifinal pits No. 3 Palmetto Ridge at No. 2 Barron Collier with the championship game on Friday.
Despite being the fourth seed, coach Justin Aulls does not believe his Bulldogs are an underdog.
"We expect to win," said Aulls. "The only district team we did not beat is Barron. We tied Gulf Coast and when we lost it was by one goal."
The Bulldogs (7-10-6) are considered a much better team than their record indicates, and they aim to prove it next week. It will take just two wins for them to secure a spot in the regional playoffs.
"It's anyone's district. We all have a legitimate chance to win it," said Aulls.