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ST. PETERSBURG — First-year Osceola coach Ryan Kramer viewed Wednesday’s season opener at Lakewood as a chance for his up-and-coming program to make a statement against one of the county’s traditional powers.
Lakewood, annually a playoff contender, has qualified for the postseason 17 times; Osceola went once in 1983 and hasn’t been since.
So, despite falling to the Spartans 25-18, 25-19, 24-26, 26-24, Osceola showed it has the talent to compete with some of the bay area’s best this season.
“For years and years Lakewood’s been the cream of the south,” Kramer said. “… Our goal was to come in here and take it to Lakewood and show everyone that there is another team in the south that other teams have to look at on the schedule.”
For 2 1/2 games, it seemed the teams had reverted to roles of years past. Lakewood opened up a 16-9 advantage before Osceola closed the gap to 18-16. After a Lakewood timeout, the Spartans’ Berkley Whaley earned a sideout with one of her game-high 27 kills then reeled off five straight points on her serve to put the game out of reach.
Lakewood led nearly wire-to-wire in Game 2.
The Spartans again gained an early six-point advantage in Game 3 but Osceola stormed back, tying the game at 15 after a kill and two aces from Morgan O’Malia. At 24-all, Osceola’s Hailey Misewich served consecutive aces, sending the match into a fourth game.
Lakewood led 9-2 in Game 4, but Osceola won 10 of the next 13 points to tie the score. Neither team could grab control until at 24-all, an Osceola serving error and another Whaley kill handed the match to the Spartans.
“I tried to warn them,” Lakewood coach Sean O’Flannery said. “You still have to keep momentum and maintain focus. It’s tough to try to get back.”
Leigh Buttner gave Lakewood another attacking option besides Whaley, recording 14 kills and displaying an all-around consistent game.
O’Malia was Osceola’s top attacker with 14 kills. Senior co-captain Katherine Mulroy added nine.