ZEPHYRHILLS — Nature Coast and Zephyrhills were evenly matched heading into their Class 4A, District 8 showdown Tuesday, except for one major factor.
Nature Coast’s Courtney Liddle.
Liddle, a junior outside hitter, provided the Sharks with the attacking prowess Zephyrhills was sorely missing in Nature Coast’s relatively routine 25-14, 25-17, 25-14 sweep of the Bulldogs.
Liddle had a game-high 20 kills for the Sharks, added three aces and was there to shut the door whenever Zephyrhills threatened to get back into the match.
“Not only is she so talented,” Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said, “but she has the motivation to be great on every point. She helps us do a lot of different things. We try to mix things up, but she can also get crucial points when we need them.”
Liddle was the biggest contributor in Nature Coast’s victory, but the Sharks got outstanding performances from a number of players.
Junior outside hitter Michelle Doucet had five blocks and four kills, junior setter Lauren Powell assisted on 21 kills and added a team-high 13 digs and senior libero Alexa Coscia had 12 digs.
“We did a real good job of blocking their quicks,” Gore said. “We just played really well tonight. I challenged the girls to stay focused and not let up. We didn’t really, except for one stretch in the first game.”
Nature Coast (10-2) stormed out to a 10-2 lead in that first game but let Zephyrhills (6-2) close the gap to 10-8 behind the strong serving of Sierra Bahr. Liddle, though, notched a kill and an ace back-to-back to extend the Sharks’ lead. At 14-12, Nature Coast got kills from Liddle and Doucet and blocks from Liddle and Powell to move comfortably ahead.
Doucet served two aces and had another serve unreturned during a six-point serving run early in Game 2, which Nature Coast led wire-to-wire.
Zephyrhills enjoyed its first lead of the match at 3-2 in Game 3 and drew even at 9-all, but Nature Coast took 10 of the next 12 points to pull away.
With the win, Nature Coast remains unbeaten in district play.
“We didn’t play well tonight at all,” Zephyrhills coach Dan Muir said. “Our passing was off. We were just using our arms, not moving our feet.
“But my team works hard. They give me their best. I love my team. I know they’ll come to practice ready to work just as hard as ever.”