The high school girls basketball season is still young, but a handful of North Pinellas programs are showing they have what it takes to play beyond February district tournaments.

Defending district champions Clearwater and Countryside graduated star power from last year’s squads. Despite expected growing pains, both continue to play winning basketball.

East Lake got close to contention last year and has turned a corner in 2018. They have a potential player of the year candidate and enter this week undefeated.

After a stretch of difficult seasons, Tarpon Springs finds itself back in the mix, as well.

Countryside High – 2017-2018 Record: 22-4

The Cougars have won three district championships in four years, including the past two Class 8A District 10 crowns.

Coach Anthony Klemmer’s team lost its top three scorers from last year’s region semifinalist, including one of the best players in Pinellas County, November Morton.

It’s a challenge to overcome and Countryside’s managed the transition well throughout the first couple weeks of the year. Last Tuesday’s home win over St. Petersburg allowed the Cougars to enter this week at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league play.

Returning players and younger newcomers are in the process of learning new roles and Klemmer believes his team will continue making strides as the year continues.

“Every kid here’s playing a different spot,” Klemmer said. “We have some starters from last year, like Jaia (Jackson), but she was the fourth or fifth options. She’s our top option this year and she’s got to figure that out. Our point guard Trinity (Thomas) never played point guard in her entire life. She’s trying to figure that out. Everybody’s doing something different, so it’s fun to watch.”

The Cougars play three district games this week, with the big one coming Friday night at East Lake.

“They’re talented, but they have to get there first,” Klemmer said of East Lake. “They have to beat us. We’ve won three of the last four. I hear a lot of the talk and Ryan (Quigley) is a good coach. I like Ryan a lot. We need more good coaches like that in North Pinellas.

“But we’re not conceding. Let’s put it that way.”

East Lake High - 2017-2018 Record: 13-13

East Lake is off to its best start in years, entering the week at 7-0 overall and 2-0 in District 8A-10 play.

Leading the charge is one of Pinellas County’s top scoring threats, Summer Quigley. The senior is averaging 24.4 points a night and receives a nice complement offensive help from the likes of junior Raygen Bostick and sophomore Whitney Rush.

The Eagles haven’t reached the postseason since 2011-2012 and played some of their most competitive basketball in years last season. This looks like the year East Lake can return to the playoffs. But like Countryside coach Anthony Klemmer said, the Eagles need to prove it on the court and the Cougars aren’t ready to just give away their claim to the district crown.

It’s too early for Friday night at East Lake to settle anything, but it will be a tone-setter of a game.

Tarpon Springs High – 2017-2018 Record: 14-9

Coach Stephanie Walden got the Spongers back to playing winning basketball last year and one step away from a postseason return before losing in the District 6A-11 semifinals to runner-up Bradenton Southeast.

Defending district champ Lakewood, a state semifinalist last year, still owns the league, but Tarpon Springs has itself in position to challenge for one of two postseason slots. Southeast again is the hurdle, and the Spongers played the Seminoles at home this past Friday night.

Junior Anabel Ellison is averaging more than 20 points a night and senior Kaitlin Manning also averages double-digits in scoring.

Prior to Friday night’s contest against Southeast, Tarpon Springs’ lone loss came against Lakewood. The Spongers notched a quality road win, 46-37, over Countryside in late November.

Clearwater High – 2017-2018 Record: 20-3

Clearwater went all the way to the region finals for the second straight year last season and enter this week 4-0 overall and 3-0 in District 7A-9 play.

Like Countryside, plenty of productivity was lost from the 2017-2018 squad. That’s not keeping the Tornadoes from believing they have what it takes to return to the playoffs.

Junior Dmya Ferguson and senior Olivia Jones are back to defend the title. Northeast, Largo and Boca Ciega are all playing decent ball to start the season. Northeast took Clearwater to overtime on Nov. 29 and Boca Ciega challenged the Tornadoes last week. Clearwater got Largo at home this Tuesday.

Running away with the district title again will be a challenge, but Clearwater has what it takes to defend its crown and return to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.