4A-4: Calvary Christian, Northside Christian avoid upsets
CLEARWATER – Two potential Cinderellas but neither could make it to the big dance.
After sweeping past fourth-seeded Indian Rocks Christian on Monday in the Class 4A, District 4 quarterfinals, No. 5 Seffner Christian battled top seed and host Calvary Christian evenly through two semifinal sets Tuesday night. But quality setting from junior Caroline Burgess slowly turned the tide as the Warriors prevailed, 25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17 to advance to Thursday's final.
Calvary moves to the title game with a 16-5 record while Seffner finishes at 12-12.
Burgess (50 assists) was a magician in the deciding sets, funneling perfect passes to senior Caslin Layer (16 kills) and sophomore Jessica Berg (14 kills) while blending in a pair of strong service runs to propel the offense.
“(Burgess) places the ball right in between the seams of our blockers,” said Crusaders coach Leah Jenkins. “I don't know how she does it, but she's probably one of the best setters I've seen at the high school level.”
“Last year, Caroline was a defensive specialist for us,” said Calvary coach Caleb Sibert. “For her, it was a lot of hard work (making the transition) and she's been doing a great job.”
It doesn't hurt that Burgess has the motivation of two older sisters that have played at the college level.
“That's the whole reason I play volleyball; I loved watching them play,” Burgess said of Megan Burgess, who played at Binghamton (N.Y.) University and Samantha Burgess, who spent two years in the University of West Alabama program. “They set my goals for me and I'm trying to work up to that.”
In the opener, sixth-seeded Tampa Prep set itself up as the district's surprise team and Whitney Elam, coach of No. 2 Northside Christian, was nervous.
“They swept (third-seeded) Shorecrest in three sets, and that speaks volumes for the growth (Tampa Prep) has had,” said Elam. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared of them (Tuesday).”
Even after being stomped in the first set, the Terrapins (8-16) roared to an 11-4 lead in the second set and fought back from an eight-point third-set deficit to tie the score at 15.
Strong serving runs from sophomore Nya Stanchewski (two aces) kept Tampa Prep competitive, but tough net work from a quartet of Mustangs led to an eventual three-set sweep (25-9, 25-23, 25-22).
“A lot of it started with good, aggressive serving, taking them out of their offense, pushing them off the net so they couldn't get any big swings,” said Elam. “And when we started swinging, our confidence got bigger and bigger.”
Campbell University commit Dani Bierman led Northside (18-4) with seven kills, 10 digs and 27 assists, followed closely by classmate Caitlyn Russell, sophomore Morgan Madasz and freshman Brianna White with six kills each.
“This is our first time back in the finals in a long time,” said Madasz. “I'm so blessed to be a part of this.”