District volleyball semis: Wiregrass earns first playoff berth; Steinbrenner on tap

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Wed. October 23, 2013 | Matt Baker | Email

TAMPA — Wiregrass Ranch’s always-excitable senior, Grace Olsen, reached new levels of elation Wednesday night after her team swept host Freedom 25-8, 25-21, 25-15 in the Class 7A, District 8 semifinal.

She screamed. She jumped up and down. She slapped her teammates’ hands and bear-hugged libero Izah Deang from behind.

Her Bulls had finally made the playoffs.

“I’m kind of always happy, but this is incredible,” Olsen said. “I’m so excited right now. … This is kind of awesome.”

Wiregrass Ranch (20-6) avenged last year’s first-round district exit to Freedom (11-8) to earn its first postseason berth in program history.

The Bulls will play top-seeded Steinbrenner in Friday’s district final after the Warriors cruised to a 25-12, 25-17, 25-17 victory over Sickles.

Wiregrass dominated from the start, scoring the match’s first seven points. Junior Connor Bennett recorded two of her five blocks in the first game to seize control of the contest early.

“If we didn’t have that fast start, I don’t know if we would have been as driven,” Olsen said.

Wiregrass trailed only twice all night — by one point on two occasions in the second game. The Bulls recovered quickly behind Olsen’s match-high 13 kills, six from Bennett and five from freshman Madison Besterfield. Wiregrass started the final set by scoring 14 of the first 19 points to pull away for good.

“I don’t even know what to think,” Bulls coach Mindy Kantor said. “I knew they could do it. The confidence I have in them — they’re such a good group of girls that the confidence level in them is just amazing.”

Olsen and senior Teddi Wright both notched two aces to set up a rematch with Steinbrenner, which was almost as dominant in the other semifinal matchup.

The Warriors (19-3) overcame early hiccups by winning 13 points in a 14-point span in the first game. Sickles rallied at times behind Lauryn Nelson (nine kills) and Sydney Tommie (six) but could never hold a late lead.

The Gryphons (10-13) also didn’t have answers for Avery Bradshaw, Rachel Mathison or Lauren Heldt, who combined for four aces and 25 kills — including Mathison’s match-clinching spike.

The win secures Steinbrenner’s fifth consecutive playoff appearance and sets up a third showdown with Wiregrass Ranch. The Warriors won the first two meetings by a combined 12 points.

“The way we played tonight just proves that anything can happen,” Olsen said.

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