TAMPA — Take one step into Plant’s gymnasium and you see a wall full of banners — including the ones marking the Panthers’ five straight state volleyball championships.
For a first-time visitor like Bloomingdale freshman Karissa Rhoades, it was hard to avert her eyes from that wall as the Bulls came into their critical Class 8A-7 match on Plant’s senior night Tuesday.
“That’s a lot,” Rhoades said.
In some ways, that was exactly what first-year Bloomingdale coach Margeaux Sinibaldi wanted — for her young players to take note of Hillsborough County’s top public school volleyball dynasty while knowing they could mark the beginning of their program’s tradition on the very same court.
And Tuesday the Bulls’ program took a tremendous step forward, beating Plant in five games, 19-25, 25-19, 25-21, 20-25, 15-13, handing the Panthers their first loss to a Hillsborough County public school opponent in more than five years. The win also puts the Bulls (9-5, 4-0) in the driver’s seat for the district tournament’s top seed.
“For our program, it’s huge,” Sinibaldi said. “It shows what we’re capable of. Tonight I saw a fire. They need to learn how to win, and I think they did a good job with that.
“The fight that I’ve told them they need, the girls had it tonight.”
Rhoades, one of four freshmen in Bloomingdale’s rotation, led the way with 17 kills, including seven in the fifth game.
Freshman middle hitter Kaitlyn Grice added 12 kills and freshman outside hitter Chelsea Chavers had seven kills. Bloomingdale’s stingy defense was anchored by senior libero Danielle Jenkins, who tallied 30 digs.
“We were ready for this,” Rhoades said.
After falling behind two-games-to-one, Plant (12-5, 3-1) fought back to claim a tight fourth game by winning five of the game’s final six points. But Rhoades’ kill broke a 12-12 tie in Game 5 and three points later, the 5-foot-10 15-year-old gave Bloomingdale the victory with her final kill.
Plant sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Sibson and junior outside hitter Sydney Stasch led the Panthers with 16 kills apiece, and senior middle hitter Brynne Fruhmorgen added 12 kills.
“I think it was just too little too late,” Plant coach Amy Rumore said. “Their defense was strong; they were swinging harder than we are. They were going after it, playing like they had nothing to lose — and they didn’t.”