NEW PORT RICHEY — Teams often face various tests throughout the course of a season. Mitchell had to tackle three in one night.
To the delight of coach Keith Paulk, Mitchell proved it could overcome varying obstacles in a sweep of Ridgewood (25-10, 25-20, 26-24).
The Mustangs proved they could hold onto a big lead, fight off a challenge and rally from a deficit.
“They answered all three,” Paulk said. “I credit that to already going to deciding games in three out of five (matches). We battled Countryside, Nature Coast and Hudson.”
Those three learning experiences mark the only losses in Mitchell’s season. But the experience of playing Countryside, Nature Coast and Hudson certainly led to a breakthrough of sorts Tuesday.
Mitchell broke open the first game thanks to a 12-1 run to take an 18-5 lead on a Ridgewood error. The Mustangs took advantage of solid serves from senior Devan Dampier (seven kills) before winning by 15 points.
In Game 2, Ridgewood began with a 3-0 lead before Mitchell began to bounce back to claim the lead for good at 5-4. Ridgewood tried to climb back into it, pulling as close as 21-19 before the Mustangs finished it off.
The Rams would not go quietly in Game 3, jumping out to an 11-2 lead before the Mustangs began their comeback. Credit the strong serving of junior Jessica Lestishock, who fired 10 consecutive serves to give Mitchell a 20-19 lead after trailing at the start of her serve by seven.
“My jump-servers, I turned them loose,” Paulk said. “I said, ‘We’re going after the win, not avoiding the loss.’ Boy, did they shine; that was so good.”
Mitchell also got solid play from juniors Devon Felts (eight kills) and Autumn Davis (seven kills).
Ridgewood gave coach Amber Starkey something to be proud of in her final game of the season. Starkey, due to give birth next week to her second child, is taking a leave of absence.
Rams sophomore Brianna Berchiolly finished with 12 digs while senior Lauren Vanker had seven kills and sophomore Mary Kujak added six kills.
“It’s sad,” Starkey said of her goodbye to the team. “They’ll be all right, they’re in good hands (with interim coach Crissy Cooper).”