CLEARWATER — When asked if it seemed Countryside had the "it" factor to compete for the state title after a 3-0 victory over East Lake on Tuesday, Cougars coach Dave Sica bristled at the notion.
"I don't even want to think about our next game, let alone the playoffs," he said. "Time will only tell."
The Cougars, who have wins over Palm Harbor University and Seminole along with a 2-2 tie against Sickles, exhibited a championship style of play on both sides of the ball against a talented East Lake squad. The offense made just as many crafty plays as the defense did.
Nikolai Hammer had two goals to raise his season total to 18 and sophomore fullback David Kuckkahn tallied his first goal as Countryside improved to 9-1-1 and avenged last week's penalty-kick loss to the Eagles in a Thanksgiving tournament.
"That was an eye-opener for us," said Hammer, who scored five of the Cougars' 10 goals in the tournament. "We were a little bit tense (Tuesday night) early on, but once (Kuckkahn) scored, it allowed us to relax and put things together a bit easier."
The first half was evenly played until Kuckkahn flicked in a shot off a corner kick by Andrew Hitt just less than 15 minutes before halftime.
The Cougars were more aggressive in the second half and peppered Eagles keeper Stephen Barna with several shots on goal. Then Hammer got by a defender in the open field and rifled in a low line drive from just inside the penalty box to give the Cougars a comfortable cushion midway through the second half.
"We, as a coaching staff, have to keep reminding them that they have to prove they're the best team on the field with hard work combined with their talent," Sica said. "That's our motto this year. Prove it. There's too much work to be done before we can tell if we have what it takes to win states. We just have to keep progressing from one game to the next."
The East Lake girls got goals from Madison Del Duca, Kristy Legoas and Meghan Dodge in a 3-0 victory over Countryside. The Cougars dominated in the first half with several shots on goal, but Eagles coach Derek Harrington moved Meghan Kelly and Karina White from outside halfback to the inner portion of his alignment to create more opportunities.
"They are our toughest players, and they were able to win the ball at midfield and create plays for our attackers," he said.