TARPON SPRINGS — East Lake has grown up a lot both on and off the court in the past week, the result of a tumultuous period where the Eagles were unsure of the fate of coach Terry Small.
Against rival Palm Harbor University on Wednesday night, the Eagles’ newfound maturity was on display.
With a sizable portion of East Lake’s home crowd wearing “I love Terry Small” T-shirts and holding 8x10 color photos of the coach in support as an FHSAA investigation into the Eagles volleyball program continues, East Lake outhustled and outhit the Hurricanes to sweep their opponent 25-19, 25-20, 25-22 in a series where playing five games in the norm.
“I think after last week and the drama and stuff, we’ve been focused on getting together as a team,” said junior outside hitter Jackie
Wegner, who had five kills and eight digs in the win. “We’re like a family again. Last week, my mind was on so many other things. This week it’s just about the family and the volleyball.”
Perhaps most telling about the Eagles’ performance was the way they closed out the Hurricanes in a tense finale. Holding a two-games-to-none lead, East Lake (4-1) appeared well on its way to sweeping PHU (3-2) with a 20-16 advantage in Game 3.
The Hurricanes, though, fought back, narrowing the gap and tying the game at 22.
The Eagles of the past probably would have lost that game after surrendering a seemingly safe lead.
These Eagles took the comeback in stride. Middle hitter Lauran Eschenroeder, who had a team-high 13 kills and three blocks, registered two straight kills to put the Eagles back in front, and they closed out the match on a PHU attack error.
“We’re finally coming together as a team,” Small said. “Before we had a bunch of great individuals, but we weren’t really working with each other and didn’t have the trust factor in there. Now, they’re jelling. They’re not going up and down. They’re staying at a certain level.”
In the first two games, East Lake grabbed an early advantage and closed out each rather routinely. The Hurricanes’ only lead of the night came at 1-0 in Game 2.
“Serve-receive was off. We missed key serves when we needed points. It just never really flowed,” PHU coach Tara Kuk said. “It flowed a little better than (Tuesday against Berkeley Prep), but it’s definitely not the kind of volleyball I want to see out of my team.”
The Eagles’ Brianna McComeskey had seven kills, three aces and 10 digs in a well-rounded effort. PHU was led by Leah McNary’s 10 kills and Chelsea King’s seven kills and 12 digs.