WEEKI WACHEE — It was a close call, but top seed Hernando narrowly escaped Tuesday night’s Class 5A, District 7 semifinals thanks to a strong upset bid by fifth seed Nature Coast.
The Leopards were pushed to the brink by the Sharks before emerging in five, 25-23, 27-25, 25-27, 12-25, 15-11.
Hernando (16-5) had cruised through the previous two meetings between the teams in the regular season, sweeping Nature Coast (6-18) both times. However, after sweeping Central on Monday to advance, the Sharks came into the match with newfound confidence.
“The girls really responded after I told them we had one more win to make it to the state playoffs,” Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. “I am proud of the way they fought hard tonight.”
Although the lineup didn’t boast the same kind of hitters at the net as the Leopards, Nature Coast prolonged rallies with solid defense. Zavana Schmit (11 kills, four aces) and Courtney David (12 kills) did their best to put points away.
In the end, it was the tandem of Tana McDaniel (13 kills, two aces) and Ali Bronson (21 kills, one ace) who came up big in the fifth game to help turn the tide for Hernando.
The victory for the Leopards sets up yet another meeting with second seed Weeki Wachee, which won its semifinal over Wesley Chapel in four games, 18-25, 25-15, 25-18, 26-24.
After losing Alexis McDowell to a quad strain in the first game, the Hornets (16-9) struggled to finish at the net against the Wildcats (6-16), but the host team regained its confidence in Game 2.
“The girls had to regroup with a new rotation, and they regained some confidence,” Weeki Wachee coach Kelly Werkmeister said. “I’m so proud of the way they came around.”
Led by the serving and aggressive play of Miranda Werkmeister (eight kills, six aces), Alyssa Cupeles (two kills, seven aces), and Chreslyn Serama (12 kills, one ace), Weeki Wachee pushed through the final three games to book its spot in Thursday’s championship.
Wesley Chapel’s Abbie Devisfruto did her best to keep the Wildcats in the match, accruing a game-high 14 kills to go with an ace.
The win qualifies the Hornets for their first trip to the state playoffs in any sport in school history. Hernando last reached the postseason in 2011.