By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 5, 2001
CLEARWATER -- The last time East Lake played a regular-season match at Countryside, it lost the lead, the match and the chance to represent the North Division in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship.
Tuesday, the Eagles revisited the Cougars gym in a similar situation. Again, there was a lot at stake. The match counted in the conference and district standings. And again, the match went to three games, the same as the past three times these two teams had met.
The only difference was the result.
Rallying from a 14-10 deficit in the deciding game, East Lake erased the memory of last season's frustration and pulled out a 16-14, 11-15, 16-14 victory in a match that lasted nearly two hours.
The victory marked the first time Countryside has been beaten at home in the regular season since 1999. And with the first regular-season meeting counting toward the conference standings, it gave the Eagles an advantage in representing the North Division.
"We feel like we won a state title tonight," East Lake coach Terry Small said.
In order to celebrate, the Eagles had to come back from 14-10 deficits in the first and deciding games. Nicole Britenriker played a key role in the third game rally. Twice she had kills for sideouts, and she also scored on a kill and a block.
Ashley Garee completed the comeback with a kill for sideout for the final point.
"We kept our composure and stayed focused," Small said. "It was huge because there was so much on the line."
Small said he had confidence in his team after East Lake beat Countryside in the preseason. The success has continued in the regular season. East Lake (4-0) has beaten three playoff teams from a year ago -- Clearwater, Keswick Christian and Countryside.
Meanwhile, the Cougars must wait awhile for payback. The rematch is Oct. 9 at East Lake.
"We're still struggling with putting teams away, but I thought we improved 100 percent from the first time we played (in the preseason)," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said.
"We just have to keep being aggressive and work harder. We'll continue to see East Lake, and it'll continue to be a good match."