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For years, the PCAC volleyball championship — which in this case stood for Pinellas County Athletic Conundrum — has been plagued by mismatches that turned what should be one of the season’s marquee events into a forgettable finish.
This year, that changes.
Today, thanks to a new format, the four best public school teams in the county — Clearwater, East Lake, Lakewood and Palm Harbor University — will duke it out for the county title beginning at 4 p.m. at Countryside. In matches that will be played on adjoining courts, the defending champion Hurricanes take on the Spartans, while East Lake and Clearwater do battle for the third time this season.
The two losing teams play in a third-place match at 5:30, and the championship between the winners will follow.
“I think it will be a great showcase,” said Lakewood coach Sean O’Flannery. “It’s going to be some good volleyball.”
In the old format — North County champ vs. South County champ — the North never lost. Rarely were the matches even close. Only one PCAC final, in fact, hasn’t been a sweep (Clearwater’s 3-1 victory over Lakewood in 2007).
Since they started playing PCAC championship matches in 1995, Clearwater has won 12 times, Countryside twice and PHU and East Lake once each.
And if that wasn’t enough to convince folks a change was in order, how about this: when the eight teams in the North County were seeded 1-8 and matched up with their counterparts in the South, the North won all eight matches, including the championship in which PHU beat Lakewood 25-20, 25-16, 25-22.
The only competitive finals took place in 1998 and ’99 — the last time the county experimented with a tournament style.
Clearwater beat East Lake both years, 15-12, 16-14 and 15-13, 15-11.
O’Flannery was one of the coaches pushing for a change. The goal, he says, was to find a true county champion by playing a true county championship.
This from a coach who has made more finals than anyone. Since 2000, O’Flannery has coached Northeast and Lakewood to every final but one. But while the finals have been his personal playground, he always ended up getting pushed off the swings by the more talented north county bullies.
“I remember getting our head bashed in, and it was discouraging,” he said. “This way is better for volleyball.”
O’Flannery can get back to the final again this year — the Spartans beat Countryside 3-2 in pool play to advance — but his team is final four’s biggest underdog. It has lost to East Lake and Clearwater but hasn’t played PHU this season, however, and hopes to catch the Hurricanes looking ahead.
Year Winner Runnerup
2009 Palm Harbor U. Lakewood
2008 Countryside Lakewood
2007 Clearwater Lakewood
2006 Clearwater Lakewood
2005 Clearwater Lakewood
2004 Clearwater Northeast
2003 Clearwater Northeast
2002 Clearwater Northeast
2001 East Lake Northeast
2000 Countryside Lakewood
1999 Clearwater East Lake
1998 Clearwater East Lake
1997 Clearwater Lakewood
1996 Clearwater Pinellas Park
1995 Clearwater Lakewood
1993 Tarpon Springs*
1992 Tarpon Springs*
1991 Tarpon Springs*
* champions before 1995 were determined by final conference record