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Match becomes a family affair

When Countryside's Erin and Katelen Dixon faced Mitchell last week, a familiar face sat on the opposing bench.

Countryside's Erin and Katelen Dixon had the unique opportunity to put one over on their father when the Cougars battled Mitchell.

Thursday night, Mitchell High's Joe Dixon became just another coach.

He was not the object of wife Melody's hoots and hollers. His daughters were not cheering for Dad's Mustangs as they were during a match last week. On Thursday, Mom and daughters were back at Mitchell. But this time, on a fun-filled mission.

Beat Dad.

Mission accomplished.

Daughters Katelen and Erin led Countryside to a 15-3, 15-6 victory that matched the kids (and one cheering mom) against Dad.

The Cougars are 5-0 and one of Pinellas County's top teams, which made the match one of the toughest on Mitchell's schedule.

Erin said the match was weird.

Joe unquestionably wanted to win the match, but, Erin said, "I know he's cheering for us inside."

Melody was ready for a busy night. She cheered on every point. She clapped during every rally. Her allegiance, she admitted, was fickle as the match ebbed and flowed. But ultimately, she knew who to cheer loudest for.

Melody said she cheered loudest for her daughters because it was the first time they have played together in high school.

For those wondering why his daughters did not follow him to Mitchell for his first high school head coaching job, it's because Mitchell, a first-year school in Trinity, does not have a senior class, meaning Erin could not have attended the school. And because it has been the girls' greatest wish to play with each other in high school, if only for one year, that eliminated Katelen.

In fact, the girls wanted to play together so badly that when Katelen's request to attend East Lake _ to join her sister who was there on a special permit _ was denied this summer and she had to go to Countryside, Erin transferred to join her.

Erin had played for the Cougars her first two seasons.

"It's a pretty big deal for us playing together," said Katelen, a freshman outside hitter. "We've been looking forward to this since middle school.

"We wouldn't talk about it all the time, but yeah, we mentioned it a lot."

Thursday's meeting wasn't the first time Erin has played against Joe. When he was the junior varsity coach and varsity assistant at Clearwater and Erin was a sophomore at Countryside, the two met.

"I remember I'd make a good play or something and look over and say that was for you, Dad, and he'd wink at me," she said.

Because Katelen was so many years behind Erin, Joe never coached her. But the younger daughter still thinks she knows the key to playing against her father.

"You have to just block it out," she said. "Dad is pretty loud, though."

Erin's strategy was to use a trick to get under his skin.

During Thursday night's introductions, Erin, who is Countryside's starting setter, went to greet her father with a handshake before pulling away at the last moment. "He hates that," she said jokingly.

Despite the pregame prank, Dixon can be proud of the way his daughters performed against his Mustangs _ even though the outcome might not have been to his liking.

"We are buddies, and it was great," Dixon said about Erin's pregame stunt. "(Erin) is definitely a great competitor, and I am proud of her. They both played well."

_ Times correspondent Steve Ponall contributed to this report.