EAST LAKE — Rachel Reed’s primary job is to run the offense, handle the passes, and set her teammates. But what makes Reed so darned good is this: if that’s not working, there’s so much else she can do.
Saturday afternoon, Reed used her blocking and net play to nudge her Eagles past Winter Park and into the Class 8A state semifinals.
The Eagles’ 25-15, 25-21, 25-13 victory puts the them two more wins from becoming the first team in Pinellas County history to win consecutive state volleyball titles.
“The seniors,’’ said coach Mike Estes, “are not willing to accept anything less.’’
East Lake (22-1) faces Deland on Friday at 2 p.m. in the semifinal at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
Deland, which beat the Eagles last season, and Berkeley Prep are the only teams to beat East Lake in their past 34 matches.
Winter Park, which beat Deland this season, was no match for the Eagles but did present some problems in the second game, surging to a 10-2 lead behind some strong net play by 6-foot-6 sophomore Beth Nordhorn.
But Reed turned aggressive, neutralizing Nordhorn by speeding up the game and looking to strike on her own.
She had a pair of kills to spur a rally and eventually pulled East Lake even at 15-all.
Reed brilliantly played a shot to an open corner for another point, and after Winter Park rallied to retake the lead 19-18, she won a joust at the net to tie it back up.
Reed’s also had a block , staving off a Winter Park rally, and her ace set up game point.
“Sometimes when you see your hitters getting blocked, or there’s a long point, you have to step up and end it,’’ Reed said. “As a setter, you’re always looking out for that.’’
Brunner hammered a kill through a pair of blockers to close out the second game, and once comfortably ahead 2-0, the Eagles dominated the final game.
On one series, they blocked kill attempts on three successive tries by three different Bulldogs, and Julia Brunner, Brianna McComeskey and Brittnay Estes all ripped kills — along with two more blocks by Reed — to make it 12-3.
“They are tough because of their consistency and their ball control,’’ said Winter Park coach Stephanie Gibson. “They always seem to be in system. That’s probably the best team we’ve played all year, right up there with Berkeley Prep and Bishop Moore.’’
The Eagles (22-1) closed it out with an 8-2 run. Estes led East Lake with 14 kills.
6A: Tarpon Springs advances to final four
TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs is headed back to the state final four for the first time since 1993 after sweeping out Lakewood Ranch 3-0 Saturday in a Class 6A Region 3 final.
The Spongers will face Fort Myers at 6 p.m. Thursday in Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee after stopping a Mustangs team that had won a school-record 21 matches and its first district title.
Tarpon Springs (25-3) seized the momentum by edging Lakewood Ranch 27-25 in the first game and dominating Game 2 25-17.
“When you are playing at somebody else’s facility, it’s even more important to get that first game,” Lakewood Ranch coach Perri Hankins said. “We could’ve quieted the crowd down. … It’s unfortunate we had a couple of bad passes in that first game.”
The score was tied at 20 in the third game when Tarpon Springs rattled off three straight points and eventually won 25-23.
5A: Merritt Island ousts Lakewood
ST. PETERSBURG — The Class 5A region final between Merritt Island and Lakewood started off slowly Saturday. The referees couldn’t quite get things in order and there were multiple delays. And both teams came out a little sluggish and out of rhythm.
In the end, Merritt Island got in synch when it mattered, winning 22-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-21.
The teams combined for 21 service errors, six of them in the first game. But by the middle of Game 1, things started to heat up.
Merritt Island kept hitting touch shots and pulled ahead at 18-17. Senior outside hitter Berkley Whaley crushed a near-court shot that helped Lakewood pull ahead 22-20. Whaley set her teammates to help carry the Spartans to a 25-22 victory in game one. She even scored the 25th point on a block at the net.
In Game 2, Mustang junior outside hitter Morgan Van Alstine started to factor into the rotation. She blasted a kill shot to set up game point and when Whaley spiked the ball into the net, the match was suddenly tied at 1 all.
The wheels came loose for Lakewood in Game 3.
Merritt Island raced out to a 20-13 lead behind a great effort from junior middle back Halle Dotson, who had nine kills in the match, three in that game. Van Alstine got three kills of her own in the set and added a touch shot to seal it 25-19.
“We lost our composure in Game 3,” Spartans coach Sean O’Flannery said. “We were letting balls just drop on the court.”
The Whaley/Van Alstine battle ramped up in Game 4, with the two trading kills. Lakewood took a 15-14 lead but one of the officials awarded the point to Merritt Island, saying a Lakewood player touched the serve. The lead then reverted to the Mustangs (25-6).
“I tried to tell the girls, not to let outside influences affect them,” O’Flannery said.
But the damage was done and the Mustangs pounced, using three consecutive kill shots to end the Spartans’ season.
Van Alstine finished just one kill behind Whaley’s 16. The Spartans (19-9) were unable to get Whaley into rhythm and failed to keep her at the service line. She did hit two aces with her mean jump serves but never served for more than a point or two for the match.
3A: Miscues mar Marauders' match
CLEARWATER — A slew of emotions overwhelmed Clearwater Central Catholic players on the final point as the Marauders watched an uncontested ace drop near the border of the court.
CCC (24-8) couldn’t overcome miscommunications and multiple miscues, losing 15-25, 25-17, 17-25, 14-25 to Fort Myers Evangelical Christian on Saturday afternoon.
“When you get this far, you have to have better passing, you have to communicate,” CCC coach Stephen Shepherd said. “And that’s the foundation we played on all year. Today that was our weak link and you can’t have any weak links when you get this far.”
Both teams had won a game each heading into the pivotal Game 3, which featured four ties and two lead changes. CCC’s Morgan O’Brien blasted a kill, followed by an ECS error to tie at 10. The Sentinels scored five of the next six points, forcing the Marauders to rally late.
CCC’s Kalyn Baird, who led the team with 17 kills, earned two kills to bring the deficit to three, but ECS (24-6) scored the next five points, two of which were tips by Schuyler Moore.
“We went over the tip all week, but the girls have to communicate and pick that up,” Shepherd said. “You have to be clicking on all cylinders.”
With Game 4 again tied at 10, CCC’s steam ran out after ECS scored eight straight. CCC senior setter Megan Miller finished with a team-high 17 digs and 24 assists.
2A: Canterbury falls in five games
Canterbury and Lake Worth Christian shared a few things in common going into their Class 2A region final Saturday.
Both teams made state last season. Both teams were beaten by Warner Christian (Canterbury in the semifinals, Lake Worth Christian in the final). Both teams badly wanted another shot at winning a state title.
But following a thrilling 19-25, 25-9, 28-26, 20-25, 16-14 slugfest Saturday afternoon, only the Defenders will get that chance.
Canterbury (20-7) suffered through some serving struggles and had difficulty dealing with Lake Worth Christian hitter Kristen Reid and libero Kristin Kintz.
“I think we were evenly matched,’’ coach Kendrea Penrose said. “They had a stud hitter, and their libero was amazing. She picked up everything from Mansie Hough. We were finally able to establish our middle, Jessia Perry, who was pretty much unstoppable, and the match went back and forth.”
The Crusaders had to bounce back twice — first after getting trounced in the second game 25-9 and after Lake Worth Christian (20-10) won the third game 28-26 to take a 2-1 lead.
In the fifth game, it was 14-all, but a Canterbury serving error gave the Defenders match point, and they converted with a perfectly-placed tip to the back corner.
“It was really a great match,’’ Penrose said.
Hough led Canterbury with 21 kills; Megan Burgess added 17.
7A: Tornadoes upended
Just a few miles down the road from East Lake, the team that Martin County lost to in last year’s state championship, the Tigers made sure they get a second chance at a title by beating Clearwater 25-22, 25-21, 25-20 in a Class 7A region final.
The Tornadoes were playing in their fourth region final in six years but failed to break through again. Martin County was led by Nicole Walch, who came into Saturday’s match with 555 kills.
Correspondents Andy Warrener and Basil Spyridakos contributed to this report, which uses information from the Herald.