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Starting Tuesday, five North Suncoast teams begin their journey on the road to Lakeland, site of the state volleyball semifinals and finals. Last season, Hudson snapped a five-year state tournament drought for area schools by advancing to the semis in Class 4A. With three more victories, the Cobras can become the first team to make back-to-back state appearances since Land O’Lakes (1986, ’87).
Class 4A, Hernando (15-12) at Mitchell (19-8), 7 Tuesday: This might be the most intriguing matchup in the region quarterfinals. Both teams are playing their best volleyball entering the postseason. Hernando, despite falling to Nature Coast in the district final, is on a roll after upsetting Land O’Lakes in the semis. Even in the loss to Nature Coast, the Leopards displayed a tenacious defense and were only a couple of points away from knocking off the Sharks. Mitchell proved it’s the best serving team on the North Suncoast in district playoff wins over Gulf and Hudson. Led by junior Devon Felts, the Mustangs keep their opponents off balance with their serve game. And with an unlimited supply of attacking options stepping up at the right time, the Mustangs might also be the North Suncoast’s most dangerous team entering the postseason.
Class 4A, Hudson (16-7) at Nature Coast (23-4), 7 Tuesday: Hudson, which finished the regular season as the district champion but was upset in the district tournament final by Mitchell, advanced to the state semifinals a year ago, becoming the first North Suncoast team to make it that far since the Cobras 2004 squad. On their way to Lakeland last year, the Cobras defeated Nature Coast in five, tight games in the region semifinals. The Sharks, which captured their second district title in a row with a four-game victory over Hernando, will be out for revenge. One interesting note about Nature Coast: The Sharks have not lost a best-of-five match this season. All four of their defeats (Countryside, Springstead, Southeast and Hernando) have come in best-of-three tournament matches.
Class 5A, Springstead (17-7) at Riverview (17-6), 7 Wednesday: Springstead has lost six of its past nine matches since valuable outside hitter Megan Morrison was lost for the season with a sprained ankle. Despite missing those games, Morrison still leads the Eagles in kills and aces. The rest of the Eagles, led by Carly Wiggins, Zoe Mannino and Allyson Schillinger, have stepped up in her absence, but it will be difficult for Springstead to overcome the loss of Morrison’s firepower and make a deep playoff run. Riverview is paced by junior Sarah Burrington, who averages 4.4 kills and 1.1 blocks a game, and senior setter Rachael Jenkins’ 8.3 assists a game.