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VALRICO — Plant wasn’t used to nervous moments like this early in the postseason, but the five-time defending state champion has grown used to the fact that this year is different.
With a new coach, a retooled roster and several regular-season road bumps, the Panthers came into Thursday night’s Class 8A-7 district championship match against Durant knowing the end of an era was possible.
“The whole day I’ve been knocking on wood,” senior middle hitter Kate Dooley said. “I’ve been saying, ‘We’re going to win. Knock on wood.’ ”
But the Panthers held off a stubborn Cougars team and a pro-Durant crowd at Bloomingdale, winning their 12th straight district title by beating the Cougars 25-20, 25-19, 23-25, 25-17.
“There might have been a little sense of relief,” first-year coach Amy Rumore said. “Durant was peaking at the perfect time, upsetting (top seed) Bloomingdale (Wednesday) night. They were coming into tonight strong, so we knew it wasn’t going to be the same Durant team as the one we played last time. But we’re different, too.”
Rumore said Plant (19-8) overfed its outside hitters in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Wharton, so the Panthers concentrated on making their middles active early. Dooley was the main beneficiary, tallying nine kills to go along with two blocks. That also opened up the offense for Plant’s hard-hitting outside hitters, Sydney Stasch (15 kills) and Kaitlyn Sibson (12 kills).
Senior setter Maren Douglas tallied 48 assists and junior libero Kylie Parks had nine digs and five aces.
“We really didn’t say, ‘When we win districts, we’re going to do this,’ ” Rumore said. “I wouldn’t call it doubt. We just didn’t take anybody lightly. That’s probably what we’ve learned from some of our losses, that you can’t take anyone lightly.”
Durant (13-12) did not go quietly. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Thompson rallied the Cougars with seven of her match-high 16 kills in the third game.
“I guess we like playing catch-up,” Durant coach Brittany Wilson said. “We seem to get down and see how far we can scramble back.”
Plant broke open a 15-all tie in the fourth game by scoring 10 of the match’s final 12 points, and three of the Panthers’ last four points came on kills by Dooley.
“I did have a little doubt in my mind,” Dooley said. “We have a different coach, different players, but we we’re going to regionals and have the home crowd. That’s what we wanted. We just wanted to have a home game.”
7A-8: Sharks avenge early-season loss
Riverview had been waiting since early September for its rematch with Plant City, and when the Sharks had that opportunity to face the top-seeded Raiders in the district final, the proverbial blood was in the water.
The Sharks (20-8) beat Plant City 25-12, 25-18, 25-9, to win their second straight district title. Senior middle hitter Sarah Burrington, who did not play in the first meeting on Sept. 7, led Riverview with 15 kills.
The early-season loss made Plant City the top seed and Riverview the No. 2 seed. But on Thursday the Sharks were adamant about proving they were the better team.
“Today everything was different than the last time,” Riverview coach Kristin Grosso said. “I think Plant City was taken aback. Our girls really wanted it. Being second in your own district tournament is not fun. I think they realized that.”
6A-11: Sickles repeats
Sickles claimed back-to-back district titles for the first time, beating King 25-14, 25-11, 25-22.
Outside hitters Brenna McTeer and Alexis Wilt led the Gryphons with nine kills each, while libero Brittany Johnson had 12 digs and two aces.
Sickles (15-12) combined for 13 service aces, led by Carlye Owens’ six. Owens also added 26 assists and three kills.
“We played well as a team tonight,” Sickles coach Rob Brashear said. “That’s kind of been the name to our game the entire season.”
7A-9: Another notch for Steinbrenner
At Gaither High, three-year-old Steinbrenner (23-4) earned its third district title with a sweep of Freedom, 25-14, 25-19, 25-19 The
Warriors haven’t lost to a county foe since a five-game defeat to Plant on Sept. 1.
2A-8: Sweet victory for Lancers
At Tampa Bay Christian, the spikes of Cambridge Christian senior Olivia Yeager directly led to a spike in coach Dave Walcott’s blood sugar.
The Lancers converged at Bo’s, a central Tampa ice cream landmark, after Yeager’s 24-kill effort in a 25-16, 26-24, 15-25, 25-16 triumph over Bayshore Christian.
“And many of them were spectacular kills,” said Walcott. “Her passing was dead on. I think she passed probably a third of our passes.”
Yeager, seriously considering attending the U.S. Naval Academy, added 16 digs for the Lancers (19-8), who have won two of three this season against the Faith Warriors.
Senior Madison Schmitt led Bayshore (21-7) with 21 kills. Freshman Erica Dienes had 12 digs, while classmate Nadia Hall had 25 assists.
“Cambridge had a consistent game which is what we expected,” said Warriors coach Melanie Humenansky. “We just were not able to get into a momentum.”
4A-9: Bucs cruise
Top-seeded Berkeley Prep took another step toward its third straight state title by beating No. 2 seed Holy Names 25-15, 25-15, 17-25, 25-16.
The Bucs (25-2) were led by senior outside hitter Jordan Burgess, who tallied 25 kills, and senior setter Mackenzie Dagostino (45 assists). Both players sat out the third set as Berkeley played its reserves.
“We were pretty much in control the whole match,” Berkeley coach Randy Dagostino said. “We played our younger kids in Game 3. Academy put up a fight, but we made some uncharacteristic ball control errors.”
3A-8: Terps deliver
At Spring Hill, Tampa Prep 6-foot-2 junior Katie Krueger tallied 20 kills on 36 attempts in a sweep of Bishop McLaughlin, 25-10 25-21, 25-4, giving new coach Jessica Lamm her inaugural district crown.
It came at the expense of Doug Chinchar, Lamm’s coach at Gaither a decade ago.
“Every point, every play, every ball, we try not to take any play off or take anything for granted,” Lamm said. “We faltered a little in Game 2 and came back in Game 3 and got that back. With our team so young, that’s something we have to learn.”
Senior Lauren Shlemon and sophomore Claire Blumenthal each had seven of the Terrapins’ 22 aces. Freshman Ariana Mosley, in fact, had four consecutive aces to close out the match.
5A-11: Knights get back to the top
Top-seeded Robinson won its first district title since 1979 with a three-set win over No. 2 seed Lennard, 25-11, 25-7, 25-7.
The Knights (18-10) were led by Alexandria Gaertner (10 kills) and Lauren Peterson (eight kills). Robinson also got a superb all-around effort from senior Katie Hogan, who had four kills, 11 digs and six aces.
Robinson tallied 17 aces, including four each by Gaertner and Lauren Wheatley. Setter Sophia Tahiri had 18 assists.
Compiled by staff writers Eduardo A. Encina and Joey Knight.