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PALM HARBOR — When facing Lakewood’s Berkley Whaley, opposing players experience a moment of trepidation against the powerful University of Florida commit.
When Whaley unloads on a good set, the resulting smack reverberates through the gym. Most players try to get out of the way of Whaley’s fastball.
Not Palm Harbor University.
The Hurricanes take pride in being able to dig any ball, and coach Tara Kuk has established a tradition of great defense among her Palm Harbor teams.
On Monday, the Hurricanes were able to dig Whaley where other players had failed before. And after neutralizing Lakewood’s greatest threat, the Hurricanes rolled to a relatively easy 25-17, 25-16, 25-9 victory.
“When you dig a good hitter, it’s such an energy boost, a momentum boost,” PHU libero Caitlyn Kovach said. “Once we saw we could dig Berkley, we were like, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal. We can dig any hitter over there.’ ”
Conversely, once Lakewood saw the Hurricanes could dig Whaley, the Spartans went into a downward spiral.
With the score tied at 15 in the opening game, the Hurricanes (10-4) reeled off four of the next five points. Then, ahead 19-17, PHU recorded back-to-back kills from Lauren Watson and Lee Nielsen, and Kovach served three straight aces to help the Hurricanes pull away.
PHU opened a 9-2 lead in Game 2 and never led by less than four points the rest of the game.
Game 3 was more of the same. The Hurricanes won eight of the first 10 points. Ahead 20-9, the Hurricanes took the next five points, paced by two kills from Watson (game-high 12), a kill from Mackenzie Shively and an ace from Jamie Appelt.
Whaley led Lakewood (12-6) with nine kills and three blocks but was never able to take over like previous matches.
“Berkley had a couple of her ‘oh wow’ hits,” Kuk said. “But if you can keep her to a couple ‘oh wow’ hits, you’re doing well as far as defense goes.”
Lakewood also got offense from Leigh Buttner (six kills) and Samantha Roberts (four), but not enough of it. PHU had four players — Watson, Nielsen (10), Logan Miller (seven) and Shively (six) — with at least six kills, and the Hurricanes served nine aces.
“Tonight we had multiple girls putting the ball away,” Kuk said. “If you look at us tonight, we look like we have pretty good distribution with our offense.”