BROOKSVILLE — A slow start didn’t come back to haunt Nature Coast as the Sharks easily handled their Class 5A region quarterfinal Tuesday night.
Hosting a motivated Anclote squad, Nature Coast swept its way to the second round 25-21, 25-12, 25-16.
Nature Coast (24-2) tied the school record for victories and is looking to better its region final berth from a season ago.
After falling behind 4-0 in Game 1, the host Sharks didn’t take their first lead in the match until 11-10. From there, talent and experience reigned supreme.
“We just made a lot of errors early,” Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. “Each week you are only going to see a team that is better than the last.”
Anclote (16-12) has only one senior and one junior on its 10-player roster, and Nature Coast, which has only one sophomore and no freshmen, took full advantage.
Courtney Liddle again stood at the forefront of the attack, leading all players with 20 kills and adding two aces. She was assisted by an all-around effort from the rest of the Nature Coast team. Hitters Michelle Doucet (six kills, one ace) and Courtney Crawford (seven kills, two aces) both had superb games at the net.
Anclote, which was on its own Cinderella run after upsetting Fivay and Hudson just to get to regionals, held its own.
The visiting Sharks maintained an early lead in every game thanks in large part to solid defense and the play of Taylor Crosse and Mia Lockhart (seven kills each).
Home court has been kind to Nature Coast as the Sharks move to 11-0 in their gym. The team next hosts Zephyrhills.
“It does give us some confidence, but the game is over now,” Liddle said. “We have to start with a clean slate.”
5A: Bulldogs survive in five
ZEPHYRHILLS — Not since 1999 had Zephyrhills won a district volleyball championship. Now the Bulldogs have reached the final 16 for the first time in 12 years.
The Class 5A, District 8 winner earned that distinction with a 23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 30-28, 15-9 defeat of 5A-7 runnerup Crystal River in Tuesday’s region quarterfinal.
“These are the heart-attack kids,” Zephyrhills coach Dan Muir said, alluding to the numerous momentum swings during the hard-fought victory.
Kaitlyn Blount led the Bulldogs up front with 28 kills and four blocks.
“What can’t you say about her,” Muir said. “She passed, she served, she hit. When it was there she delivered.”
Crystal River (16-12) started strong, taking a 9-0 lead — all on Cassidy Newcomer serves — in the first game before hanging on for the narrow win.
“We had heard they were a great serving team and they showed that in the first game,” Muir said.
In the fifth game, however, Muir said, “I liked our rotation in a short game.”
Facing elimination in the fourth game, which was tied six times, Crystal River fought back to clinch it on an Olivia Hurn kill. She finished with seven kills and seven blocks.
Zephyrhills (18-8) got 19 digs from libero Sierra Bahr. Danielle Muir, the coach’s daughter, had 27 assists and four service aces, and Erica Kinsman contributed 19 assists.
The Pirates got 14 kills and 18 digs from Meagan Unverdorben, 34 digs from libero Emily Laga and 27 digs from Cheyenne Phelps.
3A: Bishop McLaughlin gets another shot at Tampa Prep
LAKELAND — Bishop McLaughlin set up another date with rival Tampa Prep, beating McKeel Academy 25-15, 25-17, 25-20 in a Class 3A region quarterfinal Tuesday night.
After five lead changes in the first game, Bishop McLaughlin (16-8) used the play of Norfolk State commit Jessica Johnson to go on an 11-3 run. She had six of her team-high 17 kills in the game, while the Wildcats committed six double hit violations.
“We just came out flat tonight,” Wildcats coach Nikki Krause said. “It wasn’t that they were better than us, we just beat ourselves.”
Johnson had kills when her team needed them most and she served the last two points of the match.
“It is nothing that we have not seen before.” Hurricanes coach Doug Chinchar said. “At this time of year you need that one girl to carry your team and (Johnson) is ours; unfortunately if we play Tampa Prep they have five of them.”
Bethany Cameron led the Wildcats with 10 kills and eight digs, Nathalie Rosado added six kills and eight digs, Amanda Block had three blocks and setter Ellie Tucker dished out 13 assists as she averaged 18 in the postseason.
Compiled by correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Steve Lee, with information from the Ledger.