TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs has dominated the new Class 6A, District 10 standings this season and found itself in unfamiliar territory: Having to live up to the hype of being the overwhelming favorite.
With underdog Sunlake playing for nothing to lose and everything to gain Wednesday, the Spongers played Game 1 of the district semifinals tight and sloppy before sweeping the Seahawks 25-16, 25-13, 25-7.
“We’ve never been in a district semifinal game in my seven years here,” Tarpon Springs coach Patrick Snead said. “I was actually a little nervous behind it all.
“It’s a new situation for us (being the favorites). We started a little slow, a little sluggish and then after that they played volleyball like they know they can.”
In the early match, Mitchell defeated River Ridge 25-20, 25-14, 25-21 to earn its second straight regional appearance.
Jessika Hester finished with 11 digs and led Mitchell (16-8, 6-3) with 13 kills over River Ridge (16-10, 5-4).
Clinging to a 20-15 lead, the Spongers finally put it together, going on a 5-1 run with Ashlyn MacGregor earning the final kill to win Game 1. Tarpon reached the 6A regional playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“(Sunlake) was setting us up to block more so we had to find different ways to score and mix it up a little bit,” MacGregor said, who had 10 of her team-leading 21 kills during Game 2. “This is the first time I’ve played for a district (title) and the team is really excited.”
Tarpon Springs (21-3, 9-0) scored 12 straight points against Sunlake (8-18, 2-7) to end Game 3.
5A-8: Anclote's surprising run not over yet
HUDSON — With tears falling down his face, Anclote coach Chris Vergnaud broke down after his team’s upset win over Hudson.
An unlikely participant to begin with after defeating Fivay in the opening round, Anclote continued its hot streak with a four-game win over the top-seeded Cobras, 21-25, 25-22, 27-25, 25-13.
“We just had to believe,” Vergnaud said. “At this stage of the game, it’s all about who wants it the most.”
After losing the first game, everything seemed status quo, but the tide turned in the second. The score was tied at 18 before the Sharks (11-10) went on a run to tie the match.
The Sharks jumped out to a 15-5 lead in the third game. However, the Cobras fired back, going on a 9-1 run to draw back to 16-14. Hudson (18-9) took the lead at 23-21 and had Anclote on the ropes.
Then Anclote hitters Mia Lockhart (match-high 30 kills) and Taylor Crosse (13 kills) stepped up. Crosse served an ace to get the Sharks back ahead at 24-23, and Lockhart smashed a spike to end the game.
The loss seemed to deflate Hudson, and the favored Cobras never recovered. This is the first time in four seasons Hudson has not qualified for the state playoffs.
“The girls started to get a little down on themselves, and it was hard to bounce back,” Hudson coach Kortney Newton said. “The seniors were very upset (after the match) because they invest so much of themselves into volleyball.”
Anclote will face another program that has been streaking at the end of season. Zephyrhills went five games with Ridgewood in their semifinal before advancing 23-25, 25-21, 25-15, 9-25, 15-12.
The Bulldogs (13-7) have won five of their past six matches. Kaitlin Blount led the offensive charge for the winning squad with 23 kills, including the point that broke a 12-all tie in the fifth game. Danielle Muir served out the match.
“It was a challenge for us in that short game,” Zephyrhills coach Dan Muir said. “This team has had a tendency to get down on itself a little bit, but they really showed something today.”
Correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.