LAKELAND — The Lakeland Center has become a sort of second home for the Plant volleyball team. Over the past four seasons, the Panthers have played just as many matches here as any other public school gym other than their own.
And it’s become an annual ritual for the Panthers to leave the George Jenkins Arena Court with gold medals in hand.
This year’s Plant team includes several new faces, but the Panthers’ dominance was the same Friday afternoon. Plant needed just 66 minutes to defeat Parkland Douglas 25-11, 25-14, 25-16 in a Class 6A semifinal.
“That’s a nice feeling, to kind of know our way and see familiar faces,” coach Leanna Taylor said.
The Panthers (24-6) will play this afternoon for their fifth straight state championship and eighth title in 10 years.
“It seemed like this was their backyard, that they practice here all the time,” Douglas coach Dean Barboza said.
The Panthers pounced and never let up. And once the Panthers saw Orlando Boone, their likely opponent in today’s 6A title match, in the stands during the match, they made sure to impress them.
“We never wanted to play down because we wanted them to see what we’re capable of,” senior outside hitter Alex Johnson said.
Plant played with precision, keeping the Eagles (21-4) on their heels throughout the entire match. As a team, they hit a remarkable 39.8 percent. Johnson had a match-high 16 kills and just one attack error.
“It was like they just walked right through us,” Eagles senior Victoria Ashley said. “It was a breeze for them.
But it was the Panthers’ serving that was the difference. Plant picked apart the court with its serves, tallying 11 service aces, and never allowing Douglas’ offense to organize itself.
“I think that having that strong serving really set the tone early, because we would go back there and we felt comfortable being aggressive,” said Plant outside hitter Callie Henley, who had seven kills, 10 digs and one service ace. “That put them out of system a lot.”
Plant libero Charlotte Hill had 19 digs and a match-high four service aces. Tina Catanach and Brynne Fruhmorgen had nine kills each, while Paige Tuttle added six. Setter Maren Douglas had 42 assists and two aces.