TAMPA — Early in Plant’s Class 8A region quarterfinal against Palm Harbor University on Wednesday night, Panthers coach Amy Rumore could tell things didn’t seem right.
As the winner of five straight state titles, the Panthers had been used to having a match under control. They rarely played from behind. Opposing attackers rarely split their spider-web defense, let alone had answers for their hard-swinging hitters.
But the Tampa Bay area’s top public school volleyball program — winner of eight state crowns since 2001 — went out with a whisper at home at the hands of the Hurricanes in a three-game defeat that took only 76 minutes, 25-15, 25-16, 25-12.
Plant (18-8) had beaten the Hurricanes in the teams’ past five postseason meetings, with PHU winning nary a set along the way. And four of those five wins culminated in state gold.
However on this night, pure and simple, the Panthers were outmatched.
Plant had just 19 team kills, a season low, and its largest lead was a 7-4 margin in the second set before the ’Canes (20-7) scored seven straight points to take control.
“We have not gotten beaten that bad all year,” Rumore said. “I don’t know for sure, but I think that had to be the least amount of points we scored all year.
“I felt like they knew what we were going to do before my setter made the decision of what she was going to do. That’s playing an uphill battle when you feel a team’s got you figured out before you’ve even figured it out.”
The last time Plant didn’t advance out of the region quarterfinals — 1999 — this year’s Panthers seniors were in kindergarten.
“I told (the seniors) it was okay to be sad, but I tried to encourage the rest of the girls that are coming back,” Rumore said. “This isn’t the end of a dynasty or the end of an era. It was a little bit of a growing year, but we have a lot of talent coming up. We have a lot of talent on JV and we have a lot of girls who have been waiting their time.”
Junior outside hitter Lee Nielsen led the ’Canes with 16 kills (including 7-for-7 in the second set) and 11 digs, while Logan Miller added 10 kills and Sammy Eichelberger had eight.
But ’Canes coach Tara Kuk credited her setter, junior Abbey Bouchard, for running a quick-paced offense that kept Plant out of synch.
“Abby distributed the ball so well and they weren’t able to stop any of our hitters,” Kuk said. “From what I heard from other coaches and what I saw on tape, they are a very good blocking team, but because Abby was able to distribute the ball so well our hitters only had to hit around one block. Our quicker offense forced them to defend.”
8A: Durant no match for defending champ
EAST LAKE — Pass, serve and kill. It was just that easy for East Lake.
“I think that is an amazing team,” Durant coach Brittany Wilson said.
The Eagles never trailed, cruising to a 25-13, 25-11, 25-12 Class 8A region quarterfinal win.
The Class 5A state champion a year ago, the Eagles (18-1) looked sharper than in recent matches. On nearly every sequence, they were able to get a good swing at a kill. Durant (13-13) mustered little offense.
“Tonight, we flowed,” said Eagles libero Brooke Burkett. “Every pass was right on, perfect, and Rachel (Reed) is such a great setter, she just set it up and we killed it overtime.”
6A: Sickles tripped up by errors
TAMPA — No district title? No problem for Osceola, runnerup from Class 6A, District 12, as the Warriors prevailed over District 11 champion Sickles 25-21, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21 in the Class 6A, Region 3 quarterfinal.
“We didn’t win districts, but we came out and had so much energy,” said senior outside hitter Morgan O’Malia, who led the Warriors with 14 kills. “We kept it up, kept fighting and we played our game and held it to the end.”
A kill by O’Malia in the opening game was the catalyst for a 12-1 Osceola run that brought the Warriors back and gave them a 23-19 lead. Another O’Malia kill brought Osceola to game point, and the Warriors won 25-21.
Osceola took advantage of Sickles’ unforced errors, including 12 missed serves in the first three games. After three of the first four servers for the Gryphons in Game Two ended their runs with misses, the Warriors had a 10-7 lead they did not relinquish.
Sickles fought back to take the third game thanks to an early 8-0 run that broke a tie and put the Gryphons ahead 13-5. Five Sickles players recorded kills, and their serves forced Osceola to make a series of substitutions.
First-year Osceola coach Ryan Kramer remained positive.
“I told them, ‘They threw the kitchen sink and two sofas at us, and we had the worst game we could possibly have,” he said. “And it was still close.”
Game Four was close as well, with neither squad ever holding more than a five-point lead. In the end, though, it was O’Malia who came up with a perfectly placed roll shot right in the middle of the Gryphons’ side of the floor to seal the match.
“I had been trying to go there all night,” O’Malia said of her shot placement. “And I was like, You know what, they’re probably pushed back because I’ve been swinging, so I’ll just try.’ And it worked.”
6A: King comes close
LAKEWOOD RANCH — King battled in every game but fell 26-24, 25-20, 25-22 to Lakewood Ranch in a region quarterfinal.
The Lions (16-8) looked as if they were going to win the first game, which had seven lead changes, when they went ahead 22-20 and seemed to have the momentum. But Lakewood Ranch forced the Lions into mistakes.
The second game was tied at 20 before Lakewood Ranch finished with five straight points, getting an ace from Nicole Grant and a stuffed block by Shelby Walker to end it.
4A: Bucs’ core solid
TAMPA — Nationally ranked Berkeley Prep is one step closer to a third consecutive state title after beating Lake Placid 25-13, 25-6, 21-25, 25-5 in a region quarterfinal.
Senior Mackenzie Dagostino fueled her teammates with 40 assists. Coach Randy Dagostino saw room for improvement as he looks for diversity in where his team’s points come from.
“We’re very blessed to have the outside hitters that we do but if we can get some of our other players to come through and deliver five to 10 kills we’re a tough team to beat,” Dagostino said. “We just have to continue diversifying because if we rely too much on our outside hitters, teams will be ready for it and be able to limit their effectiveness.”
Berkeley dominated in the first two games, with senior Jordan Burgess ever present around the net, leading her team in kills with 18 to go along with 10 digs.
The scrappy efforts of Lake Placid wore out a lineup of Bucs substitutes in the third game. The Bucs finished the match off in the fourth, boosted by a 13-point run that came on the back of leading service point winner, junior Corey Salzer, who finished with 18 on the night.
“We’re hoping our experience is going to be the difference,” Dagostino said. “We have two seniors that have been down this state championship road for the last four years so they know what it takes, but they also know we have to get some younger players to step up and make big plays.”
4A: AHN starts strong
Academy of the Holy Names advanced to the region semifinals for the first time since 2007 with a 25-17, 25-21, 25-12 win over DeSoto County.
Despite a two-hour drive to Arcadia, the Jaguars (18-7) dominated from the outset with a balanced attack. Senior Brynn Wilder led the team with 12 kills, junior Erin Przedpelski added nine and freshman Becca Prossen had eight.
“With the drive and with them being a district winner, we anticipated a tough match,” Holy Names coach Jeff Davis said. “We don’t have a whole lot of experience so we just emphasized working hard and doing what we’ve been doing. We played well. We didn’t play nervous.”
Jaguars libero Amanda McWilliams had a team-high 17 digs and setter Jennifer Aprile tallied 32 assists.
With the win, Holy Names earns a third match against district rival Berkeley Prep, which beat the Jaguars in four sets in last week’s district final.
“I think we’ve gotten to see them a little bit and maybe the girls have seen they belong out there with them,” Davis said. “Getting out of the district and region and having played them twice, I think it helps. They see that even though they’re an awesome team, it’s not like we can’t compete with them. We can’t put them on a pedestal. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Compiled by staff writers Eduardo A. Encina, Laura Keeley, John C. Cotey and correspondent David Rice with information from the Herald.