RIVERVIEW — Still riding the emotional high from winning the program’s first district title last week, Riverview coach Kristin Grosso said this was the test her team needed.
The region tournament is unchartered territory for these Sharks, and Wednesday’s three-game win over Springstead in the Class 5A region quarterfinals served as a reminder of the burden of suddenly being the new team to beat.
Riverview won their first region tournament match 26-24, 25-20, 25-23, but history didn’t come without a scare.
“They needed this,” said Grosso, the Sharks’ first-year coach. “They needed this to show it’s not going to be a walk in the park. The region tournament is a step up from districts. I don’t think they expected rallies like that. (Springstead) came to play.”
Riverview fans filled the gymnasium bleachers to the top row and received an exciting back-and-forth match.
The Sharks (18-6) came from behind in the final two games, including a 22-19 deficit in Game 3. But Riverview scored six of the final seven points to seal the win.
“It gave us a lot of confidence to know you have to fight for every point,” said Riverview junior middle hitter Sarah Burrington, who led the Sharks with 15 kills. “We knew they were going to put up a fight.”
In Game 2, Riverview overcame a 13-11 deficit with eight straight points, including back-to-back blocks by Burrington, a Florida State commit, with the score 13-all.
Scrappy Springstead (17-8) rallied from a 15-7 Game 1 deficit, playing to a 24-all score, but Riverview senior outside hitter Victoria Gay gave the Sharks consecutive kills.
“There were times when we were too relaxed,” said Riverview senior setter Rachael Jenkins, who had 30 assists. “We could have definitely picked it up more.”
Burrington, who fought triple-blocking in the middle, had her best kills down the sidelines.
But the difference, Springstead coach Darcy Hinton said, was Riverview’s blocking. Burrington has four blocks and Jenna Cook and Kiahna Wicks had three blocking assists each.
“Their hands were constantly right there in our face,” Hinton said. “They got our best. Our girls are fighters. They’re resilient. They never believe they’re out of it.”
Springstead’s leader in kills and aces, junior middle hitter Megan Morrison, played a key role in her first match in three weeks with 12 kills. She was believed to be done for the season with an ankle injury.
Riverview faces district rival Durant, the team it beat to win the 5A-8 district title, in the region semifinals.
“It’s going to be at a higher level if we play them,” Burrington said. “It would be even more heated on both sides for sure.”