East Lake must get past plenty of tough teams before it can return to the state semifinals.
By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2002
East Lake has been able to scratch off all but one of the goals it set at the beginning of the season.
A state ranking. Check.
A district title. Check.
A state title. Wait two weeks.
The Eagles, ranked fifth in the Class 5A state poll, are aiming to get back to the state final four -- and win it all.
East Lake got past its first major stumbling block, beating No. 8 Countryside and No. 7 Clearwater this past week to win the 5A-9 district title.
Now comes a bumpier road lined with major potholes.
The region tournament.
Standing in the Eagles' way are two more ranked teams, No. 9 Punta Gorda Charlotte and top-ranked Fort Myers.
But those matches don't come until Saturday. First, East Lake has to get by Northeast, the team it beat in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship match last season.
"You look at our region and it's one of the toughest in the state," Eagles coach Terry Small said. "But that's the way you want it. You want to play great teams and know you've really earned the right to get there."
East Lake prepared for its postseason run by playing a number of strong teams in tournaments during the regular season. Five of the Eagles' seven losses came in the Berkeley Premier and Fort Myers Invitational tournaments.
"We've played great competition and we seem to have gotten past the midseason slump that we had," Small said. "The girls were sick of losing and have come together. Lately, we've played our best volleyball. We just need that to continue."