TAMPA — Plant had read the stories, heard the comments and prepared all week in practice for a tough, back-and-forth match with Palm Harbor University.
So after easily disposing of the Hurricanes with a 25-18, 25-12, 27-25 sweep in the region semifinals Tuesday night, it’s no wonder even the Panthers were a little surprised at just how easily they continued their dominance over PHU.
“Our practices have been good, but we weren’t sure what to expect,” senior outside hitter Alex Johnson said. “They were saying a lot of things that they were coming really hard and they were going to beat us. We just tried to stay composed, and I think we did that really well.”
The Panthers didn’t show any signs of nerves, cruising to 25-18 and 25-12 victories before prevailing 27-25 in a hard-fought third game. Led by Brynne Fruhmorgen’s 10 solo blocks and Charlotte Hill’s 25 digs, Plant made it difficult for PHU to find a hole throughout the match.
Johnson provided a boost with her defense as well, racking up 12 digs, including a game-saving play in the third. Down 25-24 with PHU setter Caitlin Kovach preparing her impressive jump-serve, Johnson dove to keep the ball in play, extending the game and allowing Plant to rally 27-25.
“Usually hitting is my strong suit, but this was a defensive game for me,” Johnson said. “I think our defense was amazing. We didn’t let any balls hit the floor. If I was them, I would have been really, really frustrated.”
In pursuit of their fifth straight state title, the Panthers move on to the Class 6A region final. Plant coach Leanna Taylor spoke about how well her squad has responded to pressure all season, and she expects that to continue .
“We know what the result is of losing a game in the state tournament — that your season is over, turn in your jerseys,” Taylor said. “Everybody knew it was going to be a fight until the end.”