The Gulf Breeze High boys soccer team has made the state playoffs virtually every season for the past 20 years. This year shouldn't be any different.
The Dolphins (21-2-1) enter the District 1-3A Tournament at Dophin Stadium on Tuesday as the No. 1 seed. They were unbeaten in district play and are the defending district champions. Their first district tournament game is a semifinal against fourth-seeded Pensacola High, which finished the regular season 0-6 in district.
"We're feeling confident, of course," Gulf Breeze coach Bobby Parrish said. "But we've probably been overconfident at times. You can never underestimate anyone."
Particularly, underestimating No. 2 Washington or No. 3 West Florida would be a mistake.
The Wildcats and Jaguars also play in the semifinals on Tuesday, and both are looking to dethrone the Dolphins, who have advanced to the state playoffs 18 times in 20 years and have won five district titles during the past six seasons.
"Gulf Breeze has always been the team to beat," Washington first-year head coach Felipe Lawall said. "We just have two seniors who are starters and a lot of juniors and sophomores, so we're kind of the underdog. But we've been working on some new things, and we're looking to get Washington back to winning district championships, like back in the day. We've be training really hard."
The Wildcats (10-3-2) haven't won a district title since 2006. The team they beat to claim their crown that year was Gulf Breeze.
At that time, Washington was enjoying a streak of postseason runs. The Wildcats' 2006 title was their third in a row and fourth in five seasons.
West Florida doesn't have the history that Washington and Gulf Breeze do. But the Jaguars have made the state playoffs as the district runner-up the past two seasons.
"I like the way my boys are playing right now," Jaguars coach Shawn Walker said. "They've been playing together as a team, they've been focused, they've been possessing the ball at midfield. You can see that we have potential, and I hope that it keeps coming together.
"They've just been so focused, but whether or not they'll take that into (the district tournament) is something that we'll just have to see."
The last game between the Jaguars (7-12-2) and Wildcats was a nail-biter in which West Florida went up by one goal twice, only to watch Washington tie up the game both times. In the end, the Wildcats pulled off a 3-2 win.
The Dolphins and Wildcats also have played in some dramatic games. The two teams tied each other 1-1 on Jan. 8 and Gulf Breeze rallied from behind to beat Washington 2-1 on Nov. 15.
"I think any time we play Washington, it's a toss-up," Parrish said. "But we're going to go out and do our best."
That's what's worked for the Dolphins so far this season -- despite being without four starters who are out with either torn ACLs or pulled hamstrings.
"I think this year's team is the closest-knit team I've ever been involved with," Parrish said. "We couldn't wait to see this season how good they were going to get, and then when we had some of our starters get injured, we had a lot of younger players willing to step up and get the job done. And there have been some real surprises, and it's been very interesting to watch."
Still, the Dolphins not being at full strength opens the door for whomever meets them in the district title game on Thursday if Gulf Breeze advances.
"A district title would mean everything," Lawall said. "It would make all the hard work that we put into this season worth it. We trained all through the (Christmas) break, in the cold and in the rain. And we haven't won a district championship in a while. So I think it would be great for the program and great for the school. And the boys are really excited to get there again."
The District 1-4A Tournament begins at 6 p.m. toady with a first-round game between No. 8 Escambia and No. 7 Pine Forest at Navarre's NYSA soccer fields.
In this district, No. 2 Navarre will be looking to win its second district championship in program history, while top-seed Niceville will be seeking its ninth consecutive title.
The Raiders open district tournament play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of the Pine Forest-Escambia game. The Eagles, as the No. 1 seed, have a first-round bye and will play either No. 4 Crestview or No. 5 Tate at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
As the District 1-2A Tournament gets under way today, Catholic couldn't be in a better spot.
The Crusaders are the No. 1 seed with a 9-1 district record, their only blemish a 1-0 loss to No. 2 seed Panama City Bay on Dec. 14.
Catholic has a bye for the tournament quarterfinals and will open play in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday against either No. 6 Panama City Bozeman or No. 3 South Walton. The Crusaders have outscored those teams 23-1.