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TARPON SPRINGS — Venice was either the sweatiest volleyball team in state history, or the most strategic.
It seemed like every time East Lake got on a roll in Saturday’s Class 5A region championship, the Indians discovered a wet spot on their side that needed to be wiped dry.
It slowed the match, but not the Eagles, who ended up wiping the floor with the Indians 25-15, 25-22, 18-25, 25-20 before a full house at East Lake.
The Eagles (27-2) are headed back to the state semifinals in Lakeland for the first time since 2002, when they were state runnersup.
They play Lakeland on Friday.
“Oh my gosh,” said middle hitter Lauran Eschenroeder. “This is awesome, especially in my senior year. But we deserve this. It’s awesome.”
“We wanted this pretty darned bad,” said senior Brittnay Estes, who had 11 kills and 17 digs.
The Eagles set the pace immediately Saturday, using a 6-0 run to lead 8-1. The Indians (21-9) never got any closer than four points the rest of the way in Game 1.
“I think when we all came out today, we had the fire,” said libero Brook Burkett, who has 21 digs to key a strong defensive effort.
The second game was one of the tightest East Lake has played all season. Neither team led by more than a point until East Lake eased out to a 19-17 lead, but Venice scored the next three.
A tandem block by Brianna McComeskey and Jackie Wegner tied it for East Lake, then Eschenroeder slid over for a kill to make it 21-20.
It’s one of East Lake’s best plays, Eschenroeder (15 kills) sliding around setter Rachel Reed and pounding a point home.
“We call it bang bang,” said Eschenroeder, and East Lake held the lead to go ahead 2-0.
Venice, however, took Game 3, and used a short run to pull within 19-18 in the fourth game.
But at arguably the most crucial juncture of the season, East Lake’s versatility paid off.
Kristen Berlo came off the bench for a kill to stem the Indian tide. Reed perfectly pushed one and found the back corner. Berlo and McComeskey teamed up on a block. Estes had a kill.
Just like that, it was 23-18.