KISSIMMEE — As the East Lake players walked to the court at Silver Spurs Arena for the second game of Friday’s Class 8A semifinal against Deland, they were still gripped by the ghastly memory of what happened in the first.
For the first time in the postseason, the Eagles dropped a game.
“We were just lethargic to start the match for some reason,” coach Mike Estes said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or what. It was the worst I’ve seen us play. But it also turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Soon after, East Lake made things happen. Serves dropped in for aces. Hits were falling in the corners for kills. Blocks sent volleyballs spiraling back toward the opposite side of the court.
The Eagles rebounded with force, taking the final three games to win 22-25, 25-13, 25-21, 25-14. East Lake (26-1), which is trying to become the first Pinellas County program to win consecutive state volleyball titles, will play Wellington in Saturday’s final at 2 p.m.
Few thought the Eagles would lose a match, much less a game. East Lake was too talented. Too strong. Too much.
But Deland (26-5), which was making its first state tournament appearance, had confidence after beating East Lake in five games in a tournament last season.
“There was some pressure on us,” middle hitter Brianna McComesky said. “Everyone expects us to win. And we had lost to them before. Going into the second game, we just had to take a deep breath and play our game.”
East Lake was not at full strength going into the match. Outside hitter Brittnay Estes had an allergic reaction to some food and was taken to the emergency room Wednesday. She did not practice the rest of the week and it was uncertain if she would play Friday.
“I came to practice Thursday in slippers,” Brittnay Estes said. I hit a few balls and knew if I could do that in slippers I could be out there to play. I wanted to be out there for the rest of the girls on the team.”
Though her illness prevented her from being a vocal leader, Estes still was second on the team with 11 kills.
“Brittnay is so explosive and can yell and gets all of us pumped up,” East Lake setter Rachel Reed said. “We didn’t want to see her like this and we didn’t want her to push herself too much. But she put forth a great effort.”
So did the rest of the Eagles. Jackie Wegner had 15 kills, McComesky had six blocks and Reed had 34 assists and three service aces.
“It’s a big deal for us to win two state titles,” Reed said. “It’s on all of us to defend it. We just have to stay on our game and we did (Friday).”