PLANT CITY — What a difference a couple of months makes.
On Sept. 16 in Durant's second match of the season, the Cougars were hammered by Gaither 5-0. Gaither, thought by many to be the top public school team in the county, peppered the Cougars' goal and worked Durant over in all facets of the game.
"They flat-out kicked our butts," Durant coach Jamin Hollingsworth said. "There was no fluke. We deserved that 5-0 beating."
Fast forward almost two months to the day later, and the Cougars exacted a measure of revenge, picking apart Gaither 5-2 in pool play at the Wharton Invitational.
"I think that one showed the boys what they were capable of," Hollingsworth said.
With the Gaither win and an impressive showing at the Wharton Invitational under its belt, Durant appears poised to return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
The Cougars open the 5A-8 district tournament next week at Plant City.
"We've come a long way and gotten better and better since (losing to Gaither 5-0)," Hollingsworth said. "The boys are really starting to believe in themselves."
Confidence isn't the only difference in the Cougars. After the early-season loss to Gaither, Durant dropped the next match to Wharton and found itself 1-2.
"I had to make some radical changes," Hollingsworth said.
The biggest of those made the last line of defense the focal point of the attack. Goalkeeper Connor Bass, who starred between the woodwork during the Cougars' 2008-09 region final run, was moved up top to give the Cougars more offense.
"Connor had played in the field before, so the transition wasn't too difficult for him," Hollingsworth said. "I knew we couldn't waste him being in goal when he was needed in the field."
So Brazilian exchange student Rafael Saldanha took over at keeper, and the 6-foot-5 Bass teamed with striker Jacob Brumbeloe, who Hollingsworth said "plays with the most energy of anyone I've ever played with or coached," to give Durant a solid one-two punch up top.
"Connor's not going to take you off the dribble but because he's so tall he's dangerous with the header, especially on set pieces," Hollingsworth said. "And I'm not exaggerating about Jacob. His motor never stops."
Combine those two with central midfielders Andres Plata and Ben Eisenhauer, and the Cougars' offense took off. Durant lost just twice after the early-season defeat by the Wildcats (as of press time).
"I'll put Eisenhauer and Plata, as a tandem, against any two in the county," Hollingsworth said. "They're not brothers, but I think they share a brain."
All this has Hollingsworth thinking about another deep run into the playoffs, but getting through a difficult district tournament is first on the agenda.
"There are districts that are tough that have two good teams, but this one has three in us, Plant City and Newsome," he said. "Any one of those teams can win on any night, but they can all lose on any given night."