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Victory helps heal Clearwater

Beating budding rival East Lake is especially sweet for the Tornadoes, who moved back into the top spot in the state poll.

By BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2000


EAST LAKE -- Despite boasting a 17-1 record and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in the Class 4A state poll this week, Clearwater was hurting.

Injuries sidelined seniors Melanie Custer, Katy Barber and Mariah Green last week and their absence showed as the Tornadoes had to go three games to win their past four matches.

The aforementioned players returned this week, but the one thing that really made Clearwater feel better was Tuesday night's performance against host East Lake.

The Tornadoes won 15-9, 15-7.

"We had a couple of injuries to overcome lately," Tornadoes coach Lynn Hallmark said. "That's what had us down and probably made people wonder what the deal was in the last couple of matches. I thought people might take us lightly. But we have a great bunch here and they stepped up to the challenge."

Entering the match, the Eagles had confidence. East Lake beat Clearwater last season for the first time in school history and handed the Tornadoes their first loss to a county opponent in five years. In their only other meeting this season, the Eagles lost in three games to Clearwater in the consolation match of the Keswick Invitational.

The recent matches added intensity to the rivalry. The Tornadoes, accustomed to dominating this series, were in the unfamiliar position of looking for revenge.

"Oh, gosh, we were ready for this one," Clearwater junior outside hitter Kelcey Baby said. "We've been thinking about this match ever since they (East Lake) took us to three in the Keswick tournament. I couldn't sleep last night, I was so pumped. The win was a good pick-me-up for us and a great feeling."

Baby was instrumental in providing the good times.

She had seven kills, three blocks and a service ace. Her stellar play came after a rotation change by East Lake.

Early in both games, Eagles coach Terry Smalls substituted freshman sensation Nicole Britenriker for Allison Keck on serves.

Without the presence of Britenriker up front, Baby took advantage and helped the Tornadoes rally twice from early deficits in both games.

"She really stood out and just dominated at the net," Hallmark said of Baby.

The win kept Clearwater undefeated in the North Division of the Pinellas County Athletic Conference.

The Tornadoes play Countryside, also undefeated in division competition, on Tuesday in a match that could decide who represents the north in the PCAC championship Oct. 21.

Meanwhile, East Lake is left to wonder what happened.

"We could not pass off their serves," Smalls said.

"That is a credit to Clearwater. They played awfully well tonight."

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