TAMPA — This is, apparently, not the year to beat Plant around these parts.
Maybe next year? The year after that?
“I don’t know,” said Plant coach Leanna Taylor. “My daughter, she’s running around here, and she’s already playing on a club team.”
Taylor is grinning. But she isn’t joking. The feisty, double-fist pumping Panthers coach takes this dynasty thing quite seriously.
When she read that Palm Harbor University thought the Panthers were ripe to be beaten, or that Bloomingdale coach Danielle Leffler agreed it was possible, well …Danielle, I’d send flowers this morning, just to be safe.
As for PHU, it was partly right: Plant doesn’t look as invincible as in years past. But that’s like telling Bill Gates he is no longer the richest man in the world, he’s only second.
So the Hurricanes figured they had arguably their best team, and the Panthers weren’t 26-1 with three All-Americans and a top-10 national ranking like last year when it beat PHU. And that gave the ’Canes hope.
Seems fair enough.
“We’ve been hearing it all season from everyone right from the beginning, that we weren’t as good, and we wanted to prove everyone wrong,” said Callie Henley, who had a brilliant first game with a block-block-kill-kill sequence that set the tone in a 25-18, 25-12, 27-25 rout.
“We’ve had a target on our back. But I think that made us stronger.”
Henley praised the defense, and the scrappiness, and the hitting. A little bit of everything, she said, trying to find the right adjective.
“Multifaceted!” Tina Catanach said, then the players high-fived the choice of word, which is perfect because Plant did everything well.
Catanach and Henley could have high-fived all kinds of things, and had they started they might still be standing there in the gym, slap, slap, slap, slapping away.
Brynne Fruhmorgen was a wall at the net, along with Paige Tuttle; Charlotte Hill gobbled up PHU kill tries like they were Halloween candy; Maren Douglas ran the show, and Alex Johnson was, as usual, the star of it.
And that defense? Oh, that defense.
“I think our defense was amazing,” said Johnson, who had 14 kills but surprisingly did her best work in the back row. “…If I was them,
I would have been really, really frustrated.”
This is how you knew early that things probably weren’t going to go PHU’s way: setter Caitlin Kovach delivered one of her massive serves at Johnson, and the outside hitter didn’t flinch.
Over and over, Kovach’s serve was defanged by Johnson, whereas last week it was unstoppable.
“I don’t know why they kept serving it to her,” Catanach said. “She was like, come on, serve me again.”
PHU led the last game 24-23 and had a chance to win a set off Plant and maybe start to turn things around. But Kovach served, Johnson dug it, Douglas set it and Henley killed it for Plant’s 13th consecutive victory.
For the third straight year, and fifth time in six, the PHU season came to end at the claws of the Panthers, which really has to make you wonder:
Maybe next year?
The year after that?
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org