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Cautious Cougars heavily favored to win district

Countryside High takes aim at another first starting Thursday in the Class 4A, District 7 girls basketball tournament at Seminole.

The Cougars, ranked No. 3 in the Class 4A state poll, won their first Pinellas County Athletic Conference title last week.

Countryside (23-0, 14-0) breezed through most of the regular season and is a strong favorite to win the district championship and advance to the regional game next Tuesday.

"We look like solid favorites, but this is another new step we haven't achieved before," Countryside coach John Napoli said. "We haven't lost a tournament, so now we just need to keep winning these new tournaments and keep our string of firsts intact."

The district tournament opens today with one game between Dunedin and Northeast. Countryside will play the winner of that game at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals. The championship game is set for Saturday night. There is no Friday night game because of a scheduling conflict with a boys basketball game.

Other teams in the tournament are Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole and Clearwater. Seminole lost twice to the Cougars this year but played well behind 6-foot-5 senior center Christine Olson. Clearwater gave Countryside its stiffest test of the year in a 73-70 loss. However, the Tornadoes have been hampered by numerous injuries.

"Everyone wants to look at won-loss records when you start here," Napoli said. "We are in a different position this year _ being expected to win. Still, it's a new step we haven't done before because we haven't won a district title."

Class 3A, District 11

Lakewood begins its quest for another state title Thursday in the 3A-11 tournament at Bradenton Bayshore. The Spartans (15-2) are ranked No. 6 in the state poll and are the top seed in what many experts say is the toughest district in the state.

Lakewood opens against Osceola at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and surprising Gibbs plays Bradenton Bayshore at 7:30. The semifinals are scheduled for Friday and the championship for Saturday. Four teams in the district are ranked in the state's top 10. Bradenton Southeast is No. 9, Punta Gorda is No. 6, and Bayshore is No. 10.

Class 3A, District 10

Tarpon Springs plays in the 3A- 10 tournament scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay Vo-Tech. The Spongers are seeded third and open against East Lake at 8 p.m.

Class 4A, District 8

Dixie Hollins, Boca Ciega and St. Petersburg play in the 4A-8 tournament at Bradenton Manatee starting Thursday. Sarasota Riverview, No. 2 in the state poll, is a heavy favorite to win. Boca Ciega takes on Naples Baron Collier at 4:15 p.m. and St. Petersburg and Dixie face off at 6.

Class 2A, District 11

Clearwater Central Catholic is a strong favorite to win the 2A- 11tournament at its own school. The tournament is set for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Class A, District 10

In the A-10 tournament, St. Petersburg Catholic lost its chance for the top seed when Admiral Farragut Academy dropped out of the district. That nullified the Barons' two wins against the Blue Jackets and put Bradenton Christian as the top seed based on its better district record.

"That hurt us when they dropped out because Bradenton and us both were 13-1 in district games," SPC coach Gary Preston said. "That's two years in a row they've done that."

SPC, ranked No. 6 in the Class A state poll, opens against Northside Christian at 6:15 p.m. Thursday. Defending champion Bradenton Christian is ranked No. 10 and split games with SPC this year. The championship is set for Saturday.