KISSIMMEE — Steinbrenner coach Laura Stegenga passed her phone down the table to Avery Bradshaw. The outside hitter took one look at the screen and began to cry.
The Warriors had just lost the 7A state semifinal to Gulf Coast in five sets, 19-25, 24-16, 25-16, 26-24, 11-15, but it wasn’t her team’s failure to advance to the state championship match that made Bradshaw emotional.
On the coach’s phone was a photo of Steinbrenner students gathered in the school’s gym, where Thursday’s game had been streamed and projected on a wall. That kind of backing gave the disappointed Warriors a reason to keep their heads up.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stegenga said.
More than 90 miles from their support system, the Warriors (23-4) put on a good show at Silver Spurs Arena.
Trailing 2-0 after losing two close sets, Bradshaw broke a 4-4 tie in the must-win third with a kill. She scored four of the next six points on three more kills and a service ace, and Steinbrenner took an early lead the Sharks weren’t able to overcome.
Still with their backs against the wall, the Warriors battled through 17 ties in the fourth before a Bradshaw kill and a block ended the stalemate, giving Steinbrenner the final advantage and forcing a fifth set.
Bradshaw, a junior, finished the match with a team-high 29 kills, while setter Brooke Royals had 60 assists.
The Warriors pride themselves on their serve receive, Stegenga said. But in the biggest set of Steinbrenner’s season, the Warriors’ strength became their weakness. The Sharks (23-8) had three service aces in the final set, two from outside hitter MacKenzie Allen.
“We got a little shattered there for a couple points,” Stegenga said about her team’s serve receive. “In a shorter game, when you’re only playing to 15, you’re not going to have as much of an opportunity to come back from those moments of hiccup.”
When the Steinbrenner team woke up in its hotel Thursday, the Warriors’ first final four appearance ahead of them, the self-proclaimed giddy girls couldn’t wait for the experience to begin.
“It was like Christmas,” middle blocker Lauren Heldt said.
After Steinbrenner’s loss to the Sharks the team’s excitement had dropped, but it wasn’t gone.
The Warriors had still taken Steinbrenner a long way. And Bradshaw knew there would be a school full of people to remind them.
“We’re going to be able to go to school tomorrow and we’re going to have the entire school there for us saying, ‘Oh my gosh, great job,’ ” she said. “And that means a lot to us.”