CLEARWATER — Hunter Maricle is a technically sound goalkeeper who is a proficient shot blocker.
So is Danny George.
Maricle has great reflexes and instinctive positioning.
George does, too.
Maricle can turn away dangerous shots from close range in quick succession.
George is pretty good at it, as well.
In fact, about the only thing that is easy to distinguish about Countryside’s stellar goalkeepers is their height. Maricle is 6-foot-5. George is 6-1.
Together, they have become a formidable wall as the Cougars’ last line of defense. This season Countryside (24-1-1) has 18 shutouts. Maricle has nine — the same number as George. Both have given up three goals this season. The only difference in their stats is Maricle has two more saves this season.
The two are playing together for the third straight season and their maturity, anticipation, assured reading of situations as they unfold and growing conviction in their playing style are key factors in the Cougars allowing just one goal in the playoffs, and a big reason they are playing in Friday night’s Class 6A state semifinals.
“It’s a luxury to have two great goalkeepers,” coach Dave Sica said. “We feel comfortable having either one back there and knowing that they’ll be able to step up and make the big save.”
Maricle and George have no problem sharing the workload. They have been doing that since they became teammates during the 2008-09 season.
This season, they decided to alternate games. George came up with crucial diving saves to shut out Bloomingdale in the region quarterfinals. Maricle followed with 12 saves to blank Wharton in the region semifinals.
It will be Maricle’s turn to start in Friday’s state semifinal game.
“They worked this out between themselves and said this is what they wanted to do,” Sica said. ““They’re good about communicating with each other.”
They also play on the same academy team with the Clearwater Chargers, splitting time there as well.
“We’ve become good friends and we lean on each other all the time,” Maricle said. “If one of us is starting, the other is there offering encouragement or instruction.”
Since the district tournament began three weeks ago, the Cougars have survived close games, winning four by a goal. That is what makes Maricle’s and George’s role so important.
“They’re big for us,” Sica said. “There’s not a chink in their armor. But our defense has been strong, too. And our offense has put a lot of pressure on people, even though we have not scored a lot.”
This is the last season Maricle and George will be together. Maricle, a senior, has signed with Virginia Tech. George is a junior.
“It will definitely be different next year,” George said. “I won’t have that competitiveness and push to get better. I’ll have to do it on my own. That’s why we both want to win now.”