By Jonathan Deal
EAST LIMESTONE —
When East Limestone’s soccer teams hit the road for first-round playoff games this afternoon, the Indians chances of advancing will fall on the shoulders of two underclassmen.
Dilan Sayer, a freshman on the boys team, and Bristol Countess, a sophomore on the girls team, have combined for 59 goals this season. To put that in perspective, Sayer’s 29 goals account for nearly half of the Indians’ offensive production this season while Countess has averaged a goal per outing for the girls team.
A goal per game may not sound like much, but a single goal can make all the difference in such a defensive-minded sport. Although just a sophomore, fans of East soccer have been aware of Countess since she was a seventh-grader starting for the varsity.
“She works really hard on and off the field,” said East Limestone girls coach Brad Carwile. “We could tell she was going to be special as a seventh-grader. She’s had to be very mature this year. She’s had to step up and she’s done a good job of taking that role.”
Countess’ scoring outburst hasn’t been limited to this season. The sophomore has gradually increased her scoring effort each year and currently has 75 goals entering tonight’s game against Hartselle.
The talented midfielder recently surpassed East Limestone’s assistant coach, Sarah Turner, for second place all-time at the school in goals scored. While she will have to score nearly a dozen goals in the postseason to best the single season record, Countess could break the school career record with another solid season as a junior.
“I’ve gotten better over time,” said Countess. “Since we don’t have many juniors or seniors, it’s a lot easier for me to dribble around somebody and score than it is for others. Usually though, I’m not selfish.”
When she’s not playing for East, Countess plays for Huntsville Football Club, who she will report to as soon as the high school senior is finished. For Countess and Sayer, soccer extends beyond the spring high school season.
“I love it,” said Sayer, who also plays for a Huntsville-based club team. “On the weekends when we’re not playing, I’m in my backyard juggling with the ball. I grew up playing on the street, so it’s been … different.”
Sayer learned how to play soccer growing up in San Jose, Costa Rica. The freshman moved here four years ago and has lit up the scoreboard for the Indians’ soccer team ever since. Sayer scored 14 goals to lead East as an eighth-grader, followed by his 29 goals and seven assists this season.
“I expected him to be good, but we didn’t expect him to double his production,” East Limestone coach Patrick Chambless said. “He keeps the ball in tight space better than anybody we’ve had. He’s got a great instinct. He’s got that knack of being in the right place at the right time.”
It should come as no surprise that Sayer’s technical ability is superior to others. The goal-scorer grew up playing on a narrow street with nothing but a pair of rocks to aim between.
“I had to get used to giving the ball away,” Sayer said about passing to his teammates. “When I get the ball, I kind of block everybody out. They get mad at me sometimes when I don’t give up the ball. I’ve tried to work on it though.”
Aside from scoring goals, what makes Countess and Sayer so valuable for the team is the attention the pair draws from other teams. When teams focus on Countess in midfield, it allows more space for players like freshman Jordan Runion, who has scored 17 goals and added 13 assists this season.
East’s opponents will be well aware of the underclassmen’s ability in tonight’s playoff game. Even if Countess and Sayer do not score, their biggest weapon could be drawing attention away for someone else to score the game-winner.
East Limestone and Hartselle girls kick off at 5 p.m. while the Indian’s boys team plays at Cullman beginning at 5:30 p.m.