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RIVERVIEW — Over the past three seasons, doubters asked Durant coach Jeff Davis why he took his teams to play in some of the state’s top regular-season tournaments. The Cougars were often overmatched — and Durant usually left the weekends with lumps and losses in hand — but Tuesday those losses began to pay off.
Playing for a Class 5A region tournament berth — and vindication for a 5A-8 district tournament final loss to Riverview — Davis knew the Cougars would likely need to survive a five-game match.
And in Tuesday’s region semifinals fifth-game race to 15, the Cougars were ready, defeating the Sharks in their home gym 25-20, 15-25, 25-22, 18-25, 15-8.
For Durant (16-6), it was its second five-game region tournament match, and the Cougars’ sixth this season.
“This is why we do that,” Davis said of those tournament losses. “You go through it and get your brains beat in and deal with all that stress. The more they deal with that pressure, it pays off in these matches right here. In the fifth game, it’s all about who stays composed and executes their game plan. We did that.”
Durant was clearly ready for Game 5, running out to a 9-2 lead that quickly changed the momentum after Riverview commanded Game 4.
“Because we’ve played in so many matches, we have so much experience,” said senior outside hitter Ali Wade, who was a freshman on Durant’s last state finalist team in 2007. “Maybe our record isn’t as great, but it’s come back to help us because we’ve played harder teams so we can fight through.”
Wade led the Cougars with 20 kills but got help from Chelsea Bowden (eight kills), Taylor Hackemack (eight) and Carrie Reinhardt (seven). Hackemack, a Mississippi State recruit, had a team-high 31 assists and Katlyn Messick tallied 10 digs.
Riverview junior middle hitter Sarah Burrington, a Florida State commit, dominated at times, leading the Sharks (18-7) with a team-high 24 kills, 10 solo blocks and 10 digs.
Kiahna Wicks was next with eight kills. Libero Miranda Becker led the Sharks with 27 digs, while seniors Victoria Gay had 20 digs and Rachael Jenkins tallied 41 assists in their last match.
After the teams split the first two games, Durant overcame an 8-4 deficit in Game 3 and took over a game that was deadlocked at 21 with four of the last five points.
“They’re fighters and even to the end they fought,” first-year Riverview coach Kristin Grosso said of her team. “They were tired, they were exhausted. … We still are the better team and I believe that. I really do. I wholeheartedly believe that.”
Davis said avenging the four-game loss to Riverview 10 days ago made the victory more special.
“We wanted to win the district,” he said. “We felt we had dominated it, and they came into our house and beat us soundly. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I think the players’ too. We wanted to show the county that we were for real.”