© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002
With two state titles in the past five years, Clearwater has the credentials to show it belongs among the best programs in the state.
Trouble is, the Tornadoes have not been able to validate themselves as the best in the county.
Tonight, they get their chance.
After a two-year absence, Clearwater (20-7) is playing in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship match and can win its 18th title with a victory over visiting Northeast.
"This is a big reward for our seniors," Tornadoes coach Lynn Hallmark said. "A lot of these girls were on the 2000 team that won a state title, but they've never won a conference title. It's something they can add to their list of achievements."
Winning, though, will not be easy.
The Vikings have the best record in the county (15-3) and are in the conference title match for the second year in a row. Northeast lost the title to East Lake in two games last season.
"We got a chance to see them in the preseason and won, but that doesn't really mean much," Hallmark said. "Northeast is a strong team with some great players who are well-coached. There's a reason they're in this match."
Besides playing a worthy opponent, Clearwater also has to deal with other distractions.
This is homecoming week and there are a myriad of activities, including a series of skits, a football game and a dance.
"I know the girls' minds are elsewhere most of this week," Hallmark said. "I just have to make sure they focus on this match."
Hallmark knows just how easy it is to be deterred. In 2000, her first year as coach, the Tornadoes played Countryside the same week as homecoming and lost in two games. The Cougars went on to win the conference title.
Fortunately, Clearwater might be able to dodge some of the homecoming pitfalls. Initially scheduled for Friday night, the match was moved to tonight and comes before most of the activities scheduled this week.
"The reason we did it was because we were short on administrators," Hallmark said. "But it's nice to get the match out of the way."