It's a new, more wide-open season as Lakewood ends state champion Countryside's run of undefeated play.
By LAURA LEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2003
CLEARWATER -- It would have been hard to keep things going.
After winning consecutive state championships and dominating the county by going undefeated the past two seasons, it would have been hard for Countrysideto maintain its edge.
And last week, in the first match of the season, it didn't.The Cougars fell to Lakewood 5-2, getting swept in singles.
Countryside lost last year's top three players and the coach who guided the team to state. Two players graduated, including former No. 1 Jennifer Dent, who now plays for Maryland. The Cougars' No. 3 player unexpectedly transferred to Saddlebrook.
"That wasn't a great thing to hear walking in," said Art Kohlman, who took over as coach a few weeks before this season started, "but what we have ain't too shabby."
The Cougars return four juniors: Alexis Johnson, Cara Sullivan, Sara Neiner and LeAnn Molinaro, who has improved from the No. 4 to the No. 1 spot.
"They are going to be excellent players," Kohlman said. "I think that the talent is there. This is a different team."
"I think they're going to win a lot of matches," Lakewood coach Ron Kennedy said of the Cougars.
It just won't be all of them like they used to.
Kohlman isn't putting on the pressure of getting back to state, and as far as the undefeated streak, he said he didn't think it would be repeated in awhile. The last time a team held such prominence was when Seminole went on a 148 PCAC-match win streak that was ended in 2001 by Countryside.
"After awhile we stopped talking about it," said eight-year Seminole coach Rich Lally, who came in during the middle of the streak. "We knew it would come to an end."
Lally said luck and who goes to what school has a lot to do with it too. Now, some of the better players are skipping out on high school tennis, opting to play on the junior circuit where there is more attention from college coaches.
"I think it's a little more open," Lally said.
Palm Harbor University coach Chris Anderson agrees that the competition has widened, but thinks that if anybody has a shot at dominating, it could be the young Warhawks.
For the short term, East Lake looks to have one of the strongest teams. Losing only the No. 5 player from last year's district runner-up squad, the Eagles are in even better shape this year -- especially with a more experienced junior, Anatasiya Sokolova, leading the way.