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TAMPA — To say that Tampa Prep and Indian Rocks Christian know each other well would be an understatement. Most seasons, they meet four times.
And as much at Tampa Prep has recently dominated the rivalry, most matches have been closer that the score indicates, with momentum swinging on a handful of pivotal points.
That fact was no different in Friday’s Class 2A-10 district tournament final. The Terps beat IRC for the 11th straight time and won their third straight district crown with a four-game win over the Eagles, 25-19, 26-24, 23-25, 25-19. But Indian Rocks made Tampa Prep fight for the trophy.
“We always expect it from them because we know they have talent,” said Tampa Prep outside hitter Gabby Fernandez, who led the Terps with 22 kills and added eight digs. “We know they can bring it, so we never come into a match with them, even if we have momentum, thinking it’s just going to come to us.”
After dropping Game 1, IRC was one point from tying the match in Game 2 24-23, but dropped the game. The Golden Eagles rebounded to win a back-and-forth Game 3, taking the game’s final two points to prevail 25-23.
“They challenge us to be our best,” Tampa Prep coach Mike Flynn said. “I like being in a fight where you get a little bit of a bloody nose. We have to respect our opponent and what they did to us tonight. We were on the brink in Game 2.”
Tampa Prep (10-15) spread the ball out, with Fernandez, sophomore middle hitter Katie Krueger (16 kills) and senior outside hitter Ericka McGriff (11 kills) each tallying double-digit kills.
Terps libero Nikki Cardoso had 23 digs and setter Lauren Shlemon has 41 assists. Eagles senior hitter Marisa Moralobo had 16 kills and 22 digs, while sophomore outside hitter Emiline Lazzeri added 15 kills and 13 digs. Libero Michelle Brown had 24 digs and setter Ashley Llerena had 43 assists for Indian Rocks Christian (22-6).
“I told the girls going into that fourth game we could have very easily been up 2-1,” IRC coach Mark Foster said. “Hopefully we learn from that and get another crack at them.”
The teams will likely meet again in the region semifinals. Both Flynn and Foster agreed that while winning the district and clinching home-court in a possible rubber match was key, the third meeting will be more important.
“This is the path to states right here,” Foster said. “And we’ve just got to do it.”