MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
LAKELAND — Tampa Prep’s power-stacked schedule is designed to prepare them for the playoffs.
But few things could prepare them for Saturday, when the Terrapins had to watch, silver medals around their necks, as Orlando First Academy hoisted their second straight Class 2A state trophy on the opposite side of the Lakeland Center court.
Tampa Prep owns the most state titles of any program in Hillsborough County, and in the Terps’ first trip to the state championship match since 2004, they craved title No. 16.
The Terrapins — a team that took its lumps all season, shuffled rotations and battled injuries — couldn’t come up with their best when it mattered most, falling to First Academy 25-18, 25-20, 25-15.
And in Tampa Prep’s postgame news conference, Tampa Prep coach Mike Flynn was also ill-prepared for the moment.
“I love these girls,” Flynn said, his voice cracking and fighting tears. “They don’t realize it sometimes I’m sure when I get them on the sidelines and making them run and get in their ear, but they just gave me three amazing months. I hope they remember this experience for a long time.”
Simply put, on an afternoon when Tampa Prep would have to play nearly flawless volleyball to win, the Terrapins didn’t.
The Terrapins (18-11) committed 18 attack errors, including 11 (and just seven kills) in a second set in which Tampa Prep led 9-6.
“That’s embarrassing,” Tampa Prep senior hitter Latora Lofgren said.
“Horrible,” said Terrapins senior setter Caroline Dillabough.
At the same time, First Academy didn’t make many mistakes. Hitters Kelly Merideth (16 kills) and Ansley Gebben (11 kills) combined for 27 kills and only five attack errors.
“They had answers for us at each moment,” Flynn said. “I’m proud of these girls. We fought. We were going. They didn’t hold their heads down. They kept fighting.”
“I’ll take these girls any day,” Flynn said. “Let’s go find an empty gym some place in Lakeland and play First Academy again. I’d love to do that.”
Lofgren led the Terps with 13 kills and 10 digs. Senior opposite hitter Megan Aschenbrenner had eight kills, 13 assists and eight digs, middle hitter Savannah Cantrell added four kills and libero Nikki Cardoso had eight digs.
For Tampa Prep’s four seniors, who lost last year in the state semifinals, the end of their season — and in some cases, their careers — was difficult to digest.
“Last year, we thought well maybe we can come back next year,” Aschenbrenner said. “For some of us, this could be our last game playing volleyball. We might never play again. That makes it that much harder to lose your last game playing.”
Photo: Tampa Prep's Caroline Dillabough (8), Danielle Lavey (6), Latora Lofgren (4), and Megan Aschenbrenner (2) receive the runner-up Class 2A state championship trophy.