A year ago Countryside was dominant as usual at the PCAC Tournament. No school has challenged the Cougars' position as the county's top team in a decade, and last season they had a dozen reach the finals, eight emerging with championships, and they won the title by 100 points.
A lot has transpired since then. Longtime coach Dave Frayer resigned at the end of last season, and his replacement, Paul Burke, recently resigned.
What does that mean for the Cougars in the PCAC Tournament starting today at Boca Ciega?
"Countryside is still going to be the favorite despite the problems," said Pete Collins, an assistant at East Lake. "They may not be as dominant as in the past, but they're still going to be strong."
Just how strong even Countryside's new coach, Lewis Curtright, the school's assistant principal who has taken over for Burke, cannot tell. "I don't know how well we'll do, because I don't know what the other teams have," Curtright said, "but I think our chances are pretty good." It's certainly not an easy position for the team, which finished second in the state last year.
"The wrestlers seem to be very, very focused and in good shape," Curtright said. "Their technique and conditioning are both very good."
The 16-team field has its share of tough challengers, including up-and-coming Dunedin, St. Petersburg city champ Dixie Hollins, East Lake and, in a group just behind those three, Northeast, Largo and Pinellas Park.
Countryside is without a couple of starters, including Parker Miles, who is on a football recruiting trip in Virginia. Still, the Cougars have plenty of talent, such as Wes Walker, the defending PCAC champ at 152 pounds who is competing at 160 this season, Kent Costell at 103 and Mike Talhouk at 130.
Other teams have their stars, such as Sam Wahnish (112), Mike Doucette (135-140), Zach Lutz (119-125) and Austin West (140-145) at East Lake; Matt Walker (112) and Felipe Queiroz (119) at Pinellas Park; Gary Nelson (171), Dustin Zitzman (189), Daniel Puckett (215) and Derrick Leffler (275) at Dixie Hollins; and Joe Harris (125) and Dean Miller (152) at Dunedin.