Cotey column: Pinellas volleyball teams hope to shed the Hillsborough Hex

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Mon. November 8, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

Cotey column: Pinellas volleyball teams hope to shed the Hillsborough Hex

After watching her Bloomingdale volleyball team get dismantled by Palm Harbor University last week, coach Danielle Leffler stopped just short of predicting the Hurricanes would finally — finally! — get past Plant.

“I think they can beat Plant,” Leffler said, but she didn’t say will beat Plant. Either way, having lost to the Panthers twice this season, she said Tuesday’s rematch between Plant and PHU is pretty intriguing.

“I’m actually really excited about seeing them play Plant. I think I might go out and watch that one.”

You know who else is excited about this one? PHU.

And why not? For the first time in years, it looks like the Hurricanes have a legitimate shot at moving beyond Plant, despite the Panthers’ standing as four-time defending state champion.

It won’t be easy. PHU has been eliminated in the playoffs by Plant in its past four postseason appearances, including the past two years when the Hurricanes won 47 of 55 matches but not the ones they really wanted.

“I think we know it’s Plant, but the feeling of playing them is not the same as in years past,” said PHU coach Tara Kuk. “They don’t seem as invincible. I think the girls see them as a team they can beat rather than a team they are just hoping to hang with for a while.”

The Hillsborough Hex, though, is mighty strong.

While PHU has been vexed by Plant, a few other Pinellas County teams still alive in the region semifinals have their own demons to exorcise, and they all happen to reside across the bay.

Indian Rocks Christian can’t seem to beat Tampa Prep. It has been 11 straight Terrapin wins, and three of them have come at this very point — in 2007, ’08 and ’09.

Clearwater Central Catholic has lost to Berkeley Prep twice this season and was knocked out of the playoffs by the former No. 1 team in the country last year and 2002.

Canterbury has never gotten past the second round — and can thank Cambridge. The Lancers won a second-round matchup in 2004 and have bounced Canterbury in the offseason the past three seasons.

But none of the county teams seems to be hiding from history.

“I make sure they know about it, and I try and use that to our advantage,” said Canterbury coach John Milkovich. “The girls don’t like to lose, and they want to take the team farther than anyone has ever taken it. Cambridge has (prevented) that.”

Canterbury has beaten Cambridge twice this season, but that means nothing to Milkovich because it was the same case last season. And Cambridge pulled off the upset of the first round by rallying from two sets down to beat a 26-2 Naples Seacrest Country Day team on the road last week.

“I think Cambridge is going to have a lot of confidence,” Milkovich. “That second game is going to be crucial.”

Milkovich cites the oft-repeated cliche that beating any team three times in one season is difficult.

But how about beating them five times? That is the task facing East Lake, which has its own history it would like to rectify against Clearwater.
Last year, the Eagles beat the Tornadoes four times in the regular season before Clearwater reversed the trend in the playoffs.

“They know all about it,” said East Lake coach Terry Small. “We’ve been telling them all season. That was the worst feeling last year. I don’t think they want to feel that again.”

Since Clearwater won the Class 4A state championship in 2000, only two county teams have made it back to the state semifinals — East Lake in 2001-02, and Countryside in 2008.

To change that history, Tuesday’s remaining teams will have to reverse some first.

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