MANATEE -- A handful of future stars of Manatee and Sarasota boys and girls soccer were hanging out at the beach Sunday.
Actually they were playing their sport, or a smaller, lumpier version of it.
Players like Darius Baxter of Palmetto High School, Zack Fernandes of Bradenton Christian School, Adan Escobar of Braden River High, P.J. Camacho of Nolan Middle School, Noah Labelle, Cline Burgess and Chase Thornton of Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, and Joseph Sinacore, Wilmer Yanez, Alex Thompson of Lakewood Ranch High were all drawn to Coquina Beach to see what it would be like to play soccer on the sand.
The athletes were participating in the national qualifying tournament for Major Beach Soccer, the brainchild of Longboat Key resident and former professional soccer player Peter Mellor.
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Also in action Sunday and representing IMG Academy was a Girls-14 division team which included Savannah Barron of Nolan Middle School, Ayla Johnston of Manatee High School and Mariam Josyula of IMG.
When it was over Sunday afternoon, IMG Academy's Girls-14 team, composed of IMG summer campers and two IMG soccer players, won its division and qualified for nationals with a 5-0 victory over Hernando Two in the final, said Coach Kim Dean, a full-time soccer coach at IMG.
The aforementioned 10 local boys, all playing in the Youth 14 Male Division under the banner of The Braden River Soccer Club, and with the name "Savages," were edged in an exciting final, but also qualified for nationals.
The Savages won their third game Sunday against Art of Soccer, 4-3, with P.J. Camacho scoring one for the Savages and Darius Baxter, who was a consistent force throughout the tournament, scoring two.
That led the Savages to the finals where the Savages entered the third period
down 3-0 against the Ocala We Dem Boyz'.
The Savages rallied in the third period to tie behind one goal by Wilmer Yanes and two by Adan Escobar.
The Savages eventually lost 4-3, but are still headed to Clearwater Beach, Dec. 11-12.
"All the boys gave it their all with Cline Burgess and goalie Chase Thornton being an incredible force throughout the tournament," said Karin Bauer, mother of Savage player Zack Fernandes.
"The boys certainly need their endurance to play on the sand in the hot weather for hours," Bauer added.
Kicks out of West Palm Beach won the Youth 16 division by defeating Team Kai from Sarasota 5-4 in the finals.
"Our IMG girls picked up the game fast," said Dean, whose team won three games Sunday. "It's more of a technical crafty type of game, passing and finesse. It's very strategic."
IMG will now go to Major Beach Soccer's National Championships Dec. 11-12 on Clearwater Beach.
Mellor, owner of Major Beach Soccer, started the organization 28 years ago in Florida after seeing beach soccer in Brazil.
"I saw that and decided that could work in the states," Mellor said.
The governing body of soccer is looking to make it an Olympic sport, Mellor added.
The beach soccer space is 30 yards wide by 40 yards long. By comparison, a maximum size soccer field is 120 yards long by 80 yards wide. The goals in beach soccer are smaller, about a foot smaller in height and three feet shorter in width, seven yards wide instead of eight yards. Beach soccer includes five players on the field at one time, four field players and a goal keeper. Five additional players are allowed on the roster and the coach can substitute on the fly, like hockey.
Beach soccer includes three 10-minute periods, so it's a 30-minute game. A field soccer game ranges from 70 to 90 minutes, Dean said.
For most of the athletes, Sunday was the first time playing soccer on sand.
"If you like regular soccer than you will probably like this because it's a lot of fun," said IMG's Josyula. "You have to pass the ball harder and dribble less because of the lumps in the sand."
"You have to sub out more because it's really hot," IMG's Barron said. "You can't dribble."
"You have to pass a lot because if you try to dribble you usually get stuck in the holes," IMG's Johnston said.
"It's a lot of running because the sand kind of slows you down," said Fernandes of the Braden River Soccer Club. "You don't know where the ball is going to go. Things happen that are very unexpected."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.