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TAMPA — Freedom didn’t need any added motivation Tuesday night in its Class 5A-9 district semifinal against King.
Just two weeks ago, the Lions handed Freedom its only district loss, a five-game setback on the Patriots’ home court.
But for the Patriots, a win would carry the program to new heights, and Freedom earned its revenge with a three-game win, 25-13, 25-20, 25-20 at Leto.
The victory clinched the Patriots’ first region tournament berth in school history (Freedom opened in 2002). The top-seeded Patriots (13-7) will face No. 2 seed Sickles (15-10), a three-game winner over Gaither in the night’s other semifinal, in Thursday’s district title match.
“I think it’s huge,” said third-year coach Kerry Short. “Our first two years we were .500. The goal had always been to have a winning record and compete for a district title in the third season. We’re all excited. The girls really want that banner hung in the gym. The motivation is there.”
The freshman tandem of outside hitter Ashley Wilson (match-high 13 kills) and setter Kelly Schaller (22 assists) led the Patriots. Senior outside hitter Nicki Payne added seven kills and senior libero Jacalyn Sampson had seven digs and 10 service points.
“This was a chance for us to redeem ourselves, so the girls were really pumped up,” Short said of facing King again. “You don’t have that opportunity that often.”
The Lions’ best hopes of prolonging their season might have ended before the match’s first point. Senior starting setter Emma Mai sustained a left knee injury during pregame warm-ups and could not stand without assistance.
King (9-6) rallied in the final two games, taking a 5-1 lead in Game 3. Lions freshman outside hitter Maddy Sroufe had a team-high five kills and libero Mallory Brooks had 29 digs for King.
In the first match, Sickles clinched its seventh straight region tournament berth with a 25-21, 25-17, 25-19 win over third-seeded Gaither. Gryphons freshman outside hitter Lexi Thompson had a team-high 12 kills, and junior Brenna McTeer added 11 kills.