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Cougars, Tornadoes advance

Countryside dominates tough regional for first trip to volleyball final four.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


SARASOTA -- The ball danced over the net, from Countryside's end of the court to Plant's, the final game and match point waiting to be decided. The Panthers, down 14-4, desperately held off the inevitable, an outcome the Cougars confidently awaited.

Countryside's first trip to the final four in school history was just seconds away, and Brittany Keslar just wanted to get it over with.

"I was like, "Oh my Gosh,"' she said afterward. "I was thinking we need to hurry up and get the point.

"But I knew that we wouldn't lose our confidence and get down. I just knew we would stay up and finish the game strong."

The Cougars did, but had to wait nearly 10 minutes before the Panthers' error at the net ended the game and match Saturday evening.

Countryside, ranked No. 3 in the Class 5A poll, advanced to the final four after dominating No. 7 Plant 15-12, 15-4 in the Class 5A, Region 3 final at Sarasota.

Thus Countryside will meet Gainesville in the Class 5A semifinal Nov. 10 at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista. Spruce Creek takes on St. Thomas Aquinas in the other semifinal. The winners meet for the state title Nov. 11.

Panthers coach Gary Larkin vehemently denied it afterwards, but Cougars coach Kaylyn Baly was sure Plant sorely underestimated Countryside.

"We felt like they would take us lightly, like they didn't think we could play with them," she said. "That got the kids fired up. They believed they could play with anybody here."

That they did. From start to finish, the Cougars (29-3) ruled perhaps the toughest regional in the state with four ranked teams. It started in the afternoon semifinal, as No. 6 Sarasota (27-6) fell to the regional champs 15-10, 15-9. Plant (25-5) defeated No. 10 River Ridge (23-6) in the other semifinal earlier in the afternoon, 15-8, 15-12.

Katelyn Dixon led the way with seven kills and two aces. Beverly Stasis had six kills and three aces. Carly Brieske had three aces and two blocks. Keslar chipped in seven blocks and Erin Dixon 28 assists.

Countryside took a 9-4 lead in the first game, was tied 9-9, fell back to 10-9, then took off down the stretch behind Stasis' serving to a 15-12 win. The Cougars scored nine consecutive points to put away the second.

"The key word, and I said this about three weeks ago, is focusing," Bayly said. "We stayed focused. It was just a matter of staying within yourself, playing a good match and working hard."

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