TAMPA — Kaitlyn Sibson saw her team’s season — and her career at Plant — flash before her eyes Wednesday.
No. 4 Wharton had easily taken the first game of the Class 8A, District 7 semifinal from the top-seeded Panthers, and the Wildcats jumped to a 7-3 lead early in the second.
“This is my last chance to do anything,” said Sibson, a senior. “It was a little scary.”
Wharton kept the threat of an upset alive for much of the evening but in a win-or-go-home match, the Panthers pulled it together to top the Wildcats 17-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18. Plant will play No. 2 Bloomingdale — which beat No. 3 Newsome 25-17, 26-28, 25-18, 25-19 in the first semifinal — on its homecourt in tonight’s district final.
Plant coach Jessica Lamm said her team’s mistakes were largely due to a lack of communication. After the Panthers dropped their first game, Lamm said she didn’t have any great words of wisdom for her team before it took the court for the second; she had already said everything there was to say.
“Everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “They know what errors they’re making and how to fix it. It’s just going to be if they can mentally execute it on the court.”
The Panthers allowed Wharton to go on scoring runs all night, including one in Game 4 when the Wildcats broke a 6-6 tie by scoring the next five points. Big swings from outside hitters Ansley Gould and Sibson, though, pulled the Panthers back up. Sibson led Plant with 19 kills and 17 digs, and libero MC Shival added 22 digs.
Plant’s playoff potential seemed questionable in the early going, but just moments earlier Bloomingdale clinched its first postseason spot in two years. The Bulls, led by outside hitter Karissa Rhoades’ 25 kills and 11 digs, missed the playoffs last year when they lost to Plant 3-2 in the district semifinals.
Tonight Bloomingdale (16-9) will face the Panthers, a team it lost to twice in the regular season.
The Panthers (16-6) swept Bloomingdale in the first meeting but Rhoades helped the Bulls battle back in the second to force a fifth game.
The Panthers know their next opponent is peaking at the right time.
Bloomingdale coach Margeaux Sinibaldi hopes that upward trajectory brings her team not only a district title, but also a new attitude.
“Plant has a tradition. Durant has a tradition. Bloomingdale doesn’t have a tradition,” Sinibaldi said. “So they have to believe in it, and then start it.”