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PALM HARBOR — For the first two games of Thursday night’s Class 8A-8 match against East Lake, it looked as if Palm Harbor University would finally get the best of its nemesis.
But East Lake proved that despite losing three key seniors from last year’s state championship team, it is still the team to beat.
The Eagles battled back to defeat the Hurricanes 25-27, 19-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-10.
“Losing that second game really got us fired up,” East Lake senior outside hitter Mary Gillis said. “It really showed us what we needed to do. We really came together as a team.”
The first game featured nine ties, including 25-25 when East Lake’s Christy Dunham tipped a ball just over the net. But PHU middle hitter Logan Miller had a kill and a block to close out the game.
The second game was even better for the Hurricanes. With the game tied at 8, PHU ran out to a 15-10 lead thanks to kills from Miller, Lee Nielsen and Naomi Mack. The Hurricanes won by six and had all the momentum.
But the third game would be a precursor of things to come. East Lake jumped out to a 5-0 lead after kills by Brooke Burkett and Gillis. After withstanding a PHU rally, East Lake eventually won when PHU’s serve went out of bounds for the final point.
The Eagles jumped out again in the fourth game, withstood another comeback, and won by two to send the match to a fifth game. With momentum clearly on its side, East Lake jumped out to a 7-0 lead thanks to PHU errors and kills from Burkett and Dunham.
The game ended on a kill by Sierra McComeskey.
“I’m not really a volleyball coach so I can’t answer that,” East Lake coach Mike Estes joked when asked how his team managed to come back. “We lost the other night to Clearwater and that was an eye-opener. We changed our rotation a little bit. I thought Jess (Jessica Steidl) played unbelievable at libero. We had a wake-up call last week, and the girls came through.”