CLEARWATER — The game plan heading into Clearwater’s match against Lakewood was simple: Keep the ball away from Berkley Whaley.
While the Florida-bound star managed a match-leading 14 kills Monday, the superior team play exhibited by the Tornadoes ruled the night as Clearwater delighted the raucous home crowd with a 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 victory.
“Our main goal was to keep Berkley from getting the ball as much we could,” said senior middle hitter Jen Opper, who led the Tornadoes with 13 kills and six blocks. “She was able to set up at times, but we tried to limit those opportunities as much as possible.”
Opper was one of five Clearwater players with six or more kills as the Tornadoes dominated at the net with a 50-28 advantage in kills. Kelsey Souto had 10 kills, Allie Russell eight, Jessica King seven and Kahley Patrick six.
The Tornadoes played most of the match without their leading hitter, junior Nikki O’Rourke, who was limited due to an ankle injury sustained two weeks ago. O’Rourke entered in the third set but coach Kara Betourne kept her star player on the back line.
“We didn’t want to risk anything so we can have her fresh for East Lake next week,” Betourne said.
The Tornadoes (8-3) compensated by spreading the ball around and had no trouble in taking the first set. In the second set, after four lead changes and three ties, Clearwater went on a 5-1 stretch to take a 15-10 lead and cruised to a set win.
Then in the third, the Tornadoes recovered from a 7-4 deficit with a 10-3 run to take a 14-10 lead. The Spartans closed to 15-13 then Opper and Russell had three kills each during a 6-1 streak that put the match in the books.