LAKELAND — Truth be told, Canterbury didn’t play all that much different than any team making its first trip to state, playing for the first time in a big arena and trying to unseat the defending two-time champion.
But that was of little consolation to the Crusaders following a decisive 25-19, 25-11, 25-8 loss to South Daytona Warner Christian in the Class A semifinals Wednesday afternoon.
“We never got our feet under us,” said coach John Milkovich, who had four starters hit for a negative percentage as the team had more errors (20) than kills (16).
The Crusaders (27-7) did little right in the first game, but came out and played their best volleyball of the day early in the second. But with the score 6-all, Warner Christian went on a 28-4 run that extended into the third game, advancing to the final where it will meet Lake Worth Christian for the third straight season.
Despite the score, Warner Christian didn’t overpower Canterbury. It merely played mistake-free volleyball and let the Crusaders do a little bit of self-destructing.
“Wow. We gave them way too many points,” said middle hitter Megan Burgess, who had five blocks but only four kills in 32 attempts.
Some of that was the result of almost flawless play by the Eagles and a strong serving game.
Poor receiving — Canterbury had 13 errors to Warner Christian’s three and surrendered 13 aces — put Canterbury in a 6-1 hole immediately, and the Crusaders could never mount an attack in response. Mansie Hough, the team’s leader in kills, had a team-high seven but the team managed just 16.
Mostly they were just putting the ball back over from the attack line, too far off the net to be effective.
“We were preparing for some big blocks and felt we couldn’t go up there swinging,” senior Sarah Fleming said.
“There were a lot of points where we had a chance to put it away and didn’t,” said Hough, a junior. “There was a lot of pressure and for some of us, that pressure kind of freaked us out a little.”
The third game couldn’t go fast enough for Canterbury as Warner Christian started with a 9-0 run and cruised.
“At the beginning of the season, I never thought we’d get this far,” said Hough, whose Crusaders had never advanced past the region semifinals. “It’s a pretty cool thing this team did. I definitely want to come back next year.”