Tampa tournament is on the rebound

Updated: December 18, 2009, 10:14 AM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPN RISE

Despite its bland title, the story behind the 16th High School Invitational Soccer Tournament is quite interesting.

This boys' soccer event hosted by Tampa Jesuit and played at the Ed Radice Soccer Complex was once a national showcase for winter soccer, attracting elite programs from Arizona, Florida, California, Louisiana and Texas. Then, escalating travel costs, a declining economy and a threatened reduction in matches appeared to doom the tournament.

Now, the event is experiencing a rebirth.

Group play starts Friday, and the featured match will be an 8 p.m. showdown between FAB 50-ranked Tampa Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) and No. 6 New Orleans Jesuit (New Orleans, La.). In total, 24 teams will be vying for the tournament championship. Group play continues Saturday and Monday with the semifinals on Tuesday and the championship Wednesday.

Six months ago, Tampa Jesuit coach and tournament organizer Bob Bauman was unsure of the event's future. California teams had dropped out due to travel costs, and the Florida state association's move to reduce the soccer season by five matches had instate teams bailing on the event, as well. However, a court case led to the reinstatement of the five matches, and Bauman had no problem filling the 24-team tournament field that had dipped to the teens prior to the ruling.

In addition, Tampa Jesuit president Fr. Richard Hermes, formerly at New Orleans Jesuit, was instrumental in getting last year's FAB 50 No. 1 winter team to make the trip to Tampa for the first time in more than a decade.

The favorites in this year's event are Tampa Prep (Tampa, Fla.), New Orleans Jesuit, Gaither (Tampa, Fla.), Melbourne (Fla.), Tampa Jesuit and Sickles (Tampa, Fla.). New Orleans Jesuit brings the nation's longest active undefeated streak into the match.

The following are top players expected to play:

Name, School (College commitment)
Mike Attal, Berkeley Prep (Columbia)
Patrick Mullins, New Orleans Jesuit (Maryland)
Ryan Price, Melbourne (Florida Gulf Coast)
T.J. Roehn, Berkeley Prep (South Florida)
Boris Simeunovic, Sickles
Ben Sweat, Palm Harbor University (South Florida)
Wes Seaver, Tampa Prep (George Mason)
Shane Wixted, Seminole (Providence)

NOTES -- The High School Invitational's heyday was the early 2000s when Strake Jesuit (Houston, Texas), Santa Margarita (Ranch Santa Margarita, Calif.) and Bellarmine College Prep (San Jose, Calif.) were fixtures in the event. Three times between 2001 and 2005, the winner of the event ended up as the FAB 50 No. 1 team. Then, Strake Jesuit changed affiliations, which prevented the team from making the trip. Santa Margarita and Bellarmine were able to compete in California-based events of similar stature.