PALMETTO -- Out of the six public high schools in Manatee County, there is just one that has made it to the state final four in boys soccer.
In fact, the Palmetto Tigers have accomplished the feat twice, advancing to the state semifinals in 2009 and '10.
But Palmetto isn't content with getting there anymore.
The Tigers are hungry for a championship, and this year's team has all the pieces head coach Dustin Dahlquist needs for a deep playoff run.
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"We believe that every year," Dahlquist said. "Realistically we feel that we can compete against anybody that we play. ... There's a lot of similarities to the two teams. Those were all junior, senior teams. This is a junior, senior team."
Palmetto (16-1-3) has earned the top seed for its district tournament with a more than a week to go in the regular season. The Tigers have done so by crushing district opponents. They've earned 8-0 mercy-rule wins five times.
On Thursday, Palmetto scored a 5-0 triumph over Sarasota Booker, getting goals from five different players.
Their hot streak, which stretches back to losing the third match of the year 3-0 to Montverde Academy (now 21-0-1), really got going at the Nike Thanksgiving tournament held at Lakewood Ranch's Premier
Palmetto won the event, which featured state powerhouse clubs like Auburndale and Tampa Jesuit, the latter of which has been a thorn in the Tigers' side each winter in the region tournament. Jesuit has captured six state championships and finished runner-up another three times. Jesuit eliminated Palmetto in the regional semifinals last year en route to a state final appearance.
Palmetto hasn't let up since the winter break and made the semifinals of Tampa Berkeley Prep's holiday tournament before losing in a penalty shootout.
"We played up a class or two and saw some real good competition," Dahlquist said, "and saw some of the problems that some of those teams might present to us and some of the problems we present to them. So that was an excellent tournament. We finished third out of the 16 teams. So that was a good finish. Last year, we were eliminated on the first day. This year we lost 7-6 in PKs in the semifinals. ... It counts as a tie in your record."
The Tigers say chemistry is the key reason for this year's success. Palmetto players have either played with or against each other for many years, beginning well before high school at the youth club level.
Dahlquist said they're all neighborhood kids, with many living a short distance from the school, and that they all play year-round, a trait necessary to stay sharp ahead of the high school season.
Another key for Palmetto this season is the maturation of its players as well as depth. The Tigers sport many seniors and juniors, and they use everyone on their roster without a drop in talent, Dahlquist said.
The offensive firepower comes from Pedro and Gregorio Calvillo up front. At the top levels of soccer, players often find others in space without communicating verbally.
That's taken to a whole new dynamic with the Calvillo brothers, mainly because they've played together for so long.
"It's pretty rare," Pedro Calvillo said. "It's not every day you get to be up front with your brother. ... I grew up playing with him, so I kind of know where he's going and know what he's going to do. ... He feeds off me because he knows I'm going to give him the ball. And he knows where to make the runs."
The Tigers aren't just an offensive juggernaut, though. They sport a tidy defensive unit, led by seniors Franky Paniagua and Eliseo Gonzalez.
"We do a lot of communication," Paniagua said. "Throughout halftime or a water break, coach will explain to us, you've got to talk to each other more. More communication. Because without the communication, we break down. So we have to stay connected to each other at all times."
"It's also for defense if we communicate, we find out if our left side is weak, we push a little more to the left," Gonzalez said. "If our right side is weak, we push a little bit to the right. And we just communicate. If someone's hurt, we just tell them to keep going and keep pushing."
The hope is to keep going all the way to a state title.