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By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000
Katy Barber is the vocal leader for Clearwater. She is the one who barks out instructions and encourages teammates.
Melanie Custer leads by example. She has played despite having back injuries and enduring a 103-degree fever in last week's district championship victory over Lakewood.
Their approaches are different, but it's hard to argue with the results the seniors have put together. They were starters on Clearwater's undefeated state title team in 1997 as freshmen and have compiled an 110-15 record in their four years at the school.
With the season almost over, Barber and Custer intend to finish their high school careers the way they started them -- with a state title.
Saturday, they can get closer to their goal. The Tornadoes travel to Naples for the Class 4A, Region 3 tournament. Clearwater plays Lemon Bay at 2 p.m., and Lakewood plays host Barron Collier at 4. The winners advance to the championship match at 7.
"I don't look at it as we're almost there," Custer said. "We're not going to be at the state tournament until these next two matches are completed. I'm not going to relax. I want nothing but wins."
Winning is something Custer and Barber are used to since they started playing together as seventh-graders at Skycrest Christian six years ago.
"She (Melanie) and I have played for a long time, and we are captains on varsity," Barber said. "We know exactly how each other plays, and we share a special bond on the court."
Although they have been winning and are ranked No. 2 in 4A, the Tornadoes bandwagon was sidetracked with losses to county rivals Countryside and East Lake in the past month. Nevertheless, Clearwater regained its focus and rolled through the district tournament and regional quarterfinals.
"Those losses helped us," Barber said. "They made us realize we're not as good as people thought we were. After the last loss, we went a week without playing, and that allowed us to practice and brush up on our skills. I think we're stronger for it."