PLANT CITY — Steinbrenner began Tuesday night’s Class 7A region semifinal with exuberant leaps and exultant screams after its first point — a block at the net. The Warriors ended the night with joyous hugs and triumphant chants on Durant’s home floor.
Steinbrenner swept the Cougars 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 to eliminate Durant and end its hopes of a perfect season. The Warriors (23-3) advance to their second straight region final and a matchup with Orlando Lake Nona with a trip to the final four at stake.
“Oh my gosh,” junior outside hitter Avery Bradshaw said. “We’re overwhelmed for sure.”
Bradshaw’s Warriors had spent the last hour and a half overwhelming Durant (27-0). Steinbrenner trailed for only three points the entire match and played nearly flawlessly.
Bradshaw (13 kills) and senior Rachel Mathison (seven kills) led an offensive attack that rarely misfired. Setter Brooke Royals fed the ball to five different Warriors who notched kills. Steinbrenner racked up six aces, and its defense kept Ole Miss commit Lexi Thompson (15 kills) from dominating.
“Our offense was outstanding,” Steinbrenner coach Laura Stegenga said. “Our defense was outstanding. Our teamwork was phenomenal. I can’t even critique them at this point.”
The Warriors’ closest calls came in the second game, when Durant took its only leads and trailed 18-17 late. But Bradshaw, Ashley Akers and Royals all scored pivotal points to squeeze out the win.
Steinbrenner’s performance was even more impressive considering what happened in the team’s previous meeting. The Warriors were drained before their sixth match in six days, and Durant escaped with a five-game victory.
Steinbrenner made sure its intensity was never in question this round.
“That’s all we’ve been talking about,” Stegenga said. “That’s all we’ve been preparing for.”
And it showed Tuesday night in perhaps the best performance in school history.
8A: PHU defense stymies Bulls
PALM HARBOR — For Palm Harbor University to advance to its first region final, it had to find a way to stop Bloomingdale hitter Karissa Rhoades in Tuesday night’s Class 8A semifinal. Rhoades had 457 kills in 29 games for the Bulls, and if she got hot, the Hurricanes would be in trouble.
PHU’s stellar defense made sure that wasn’t an issue.
Bolstered by the play of Ameije Ismaili (21 digs), Emma Strong (20 digs) and Naomi Mack (five blocks, nine kills), the Hurricanes frustrated Bloomingdale all night in a surprisingly comfortable 25-15, 25-20, 25-16 win. PHU (21-8) will play at Winter Park on Saturday.
“I knew that most of their offense was to (Rhoades),” PHU coach Tara Kuk said. “I’m a firm believer that a team is going to beat an individual every time. It looked like our team has been together for years, but really this is the first year. It’s just crazy how well they played as a team.”
PHU held only a slight 7-6 lead in the first game before going on a 6-0 run to make it 13-6. From there, led by kills from Jazmine Barker, AnnaMarie Huy and Strong, PHU closed out the game with three straight points.
The second game was all Hurricanes early. They jumped out to a 7-1 lead and led 10-3 at one point. The Bulls (18-12) chipped away and cut the lead to 21-19. But a service error, a Huy kill and a spike into the net gave PHU a 24-20 lead. Huy closed out the game with another kill.
Bloomingdale dug too big of a hole in the third game with the Hurricanes leading 11-1 to start. The Bulls went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 15-10, but Mack stopped the run with a kill and PHU cruised from there.
“We couldn’t let them get runs,” Mack said. “They did get a few and we just had to slow ourselves down. We were able to get ourselves back on track.”
Bloomingdale coach Margeaux Sinibaldi figured it would take a flawless effort to beat PHU.
“We had a lot of errors,” she said. “You can’t win a match when you’re making 15 errors a game. They didn’t make a lot of errors. That’s a hard team to beat right there.”
Rhoades led the Bulls with 12 kills. Kaitlyn Grice added eight kills. Barker had seven kills and seven blocks for PHU.
5A: Knights roll into next round
TAMPA — Somewhere in the midst of a 12-point run to close out the opening game against Bradenton Bayshore, Robinson realized its path to the region final would be a lot less bumpy than a year ago.
In 2012, the Knights let a two-game lead over Dunedin disappear and had to rally from a 10-4 deficit in the fifth to move on.
Bayshore, a team in the playoffs for the first time since 1987, proved less competitive.
A week after recording 19 aces in a region quarterfinal win over Bradenton Southeast, Robinson continued its torrid playoff serving with 15 against Bayshore to overwhelm the Bruins 25-9, 25-14, 25-8.
“Last year, they were definitely nervous in the first regional match, and this year I feel like they have a little bit of nerves but it’s a familiar place now,” Robinson second-year coach Christen Garcia said about her team. “Last year we made it to the regional finals, and we expected to get there again. Now our goal is to take it one step forward.”
Robinson (13-13) will make its second straight trip to the region finals. The Knights led 13-9 early in game one before reeling off 12 straight points to demoralize Bayshore (12-12).
“Whenever you get any more than a five-point run, the other team is going to shut down,” Robinson’s Lauren Peterson said. “We’ve been on the other side of that at times. It definitely was a boost for us.”
Game 2 was more competitive, but Robinson started with the lead and steadily built it throughout.
In the final game, Robinson setter Kylee Gorngpratum won eight points in a row on her serve, turning a 9-4 advantage into a 17-4 runaway. Gorngpratum had six aces in the run and seven for the match.
“Serving is a big part of our success and getting our opponent out of system,” Gorngpratum said.
Gorngpratum distributed the ball to several players in a varied Knights’ attack. Lauren Wheatley and Catia Sleet each had nine kills to pace Robinson, and Peterson added seven.
“I think we’ve grown in terms of spreading our offense, having more contributors, really relying on everybody as a team rather than relying on one or two players to carry the team,” Garcia said.
4A: Berkeley keeps stakes in mind vs. Holy Names
TAMPA — The match wasn’t about revenge, Berkeley Prep coach John Coup said.
But after Logan Weldon’s kill shot hit the floor for the first point Tuesday, against the Academy of the Holy Names team that snapped Berkeley Prep’s 11-year district title streak 12 days ago, the visiting Bucs celebrated as if they had just won a state title.
Berkeley Prep — which won 25-18, 26-24, 25-9 — would need 75 more points to beat the Jaguars and advance to the region final for a 13th straight year. Still, senior outside hitter Sidney Brown couldn’t deny the first point was special.
“That was us being ready to play this game and being excited for the chance to play to move on,” said Brown, who led the Bucs with 15 kills. “We took that for granted last time.”
The Bucs’ early fire carried them through an easy first set win, but in the second, Holy Names refused to step aside.
After jumping to an early lead, the Jaguars (16-13) stuck around with the help of seven kills from senior outside hitter Courtney Vogler. The score tied for the ninth time, at 20, Vogler had three consecutive kills to give AHN a 23-20 lead.
Unlike the district championship match, Coup said, the Bucs (21-7) came up big at that critical, early moment. With the help of a blocked Vogler shot, Berkeley scored six of the final eight points to stifle the Jaguars’ comeback.
After the close call, Berkeley sealed its fate quickly, allowing Holy Names just nine points in the final set.
The morning after her team lost the district title to Holy Names, Brown recalls coming to terms with it. “This is seriously the best thing that could have ever happened to us,” she said she thought to herself.
Because the Bucs found out, when they still had a chance to recover, what it’s like to take championships for granted. That’s something she said won’t happen again.
“We are so not ready to see this end on a bad note,” she said. “And we know it’s not going to.”
3A: Terrapins earn tough win
TAMPA — Three of the four games were tight but Tampa Prep made the key plays when necessary and advanced to Saturday’s 3A region finals with a 24-26, 25-12, 25-23, 25-22 win against visiting Bishop McLaughlin.
“Those games were point for point and could have gone either way,” Terrapins coach Andrew Wilson said. “But I thought we did well when we were playing with pace, and tonight was truly a full team effort.”
The win was Tampa Prep’s third this season vs. Bishop McLaughlin — all 3-1 — and three of the games Tuesday night were decided by three points or fewer.
“We had our chances in every one of those games we lost,” Hurricanes coach Doug Chinchar said. “We were set up in the right spots, the girls just didn’t make the plays.”
Wilson was forced to do some lineup shuffling against the Hurricanes (18-7) with starting setter Natalie Galdos sidelined with a concussion. Freshman Caitlin Zettle took Galdos’ place and responded with 44 assists. Galdos is expected to return for Saturday’s region final.
“(Zettle) did a great job,” Wilson said. “She hasn’t set a complete match all season and to have a freshman come through in a region semifinal was huge.”
The Hurricanes went up 1-0 in an opening game that featured 15 ties and saw neither team lead by more than two points.
The Terrapins (17-10) seized the pivotal game three. Corey Perkins’ tip broke a 23-all tie and Kamryn Beach won the joust at the net to put Tampa Prep up 2-1. The Terps then broke a 19-all tie in Game 4 and Alana Nelson’s cross-court winner finished off the Hurricanes.
Nelson (four aces) had a team-high 16 kills, Perkins finished with 12 and Ariana Moseley chipped in with 11. The Hurricanes were led by 16 kills from Alyssa Mathis and 14 from Aileen Hnatiuk.
2A: Trueheart key as HEAT advances
BRANDON — Tampa Bay HEAT and Cambridge Christian met at Central Baptist on Tuesday night to settle a fourth matchup of the season with a trip to the region finals on the line. The teams, so familiar with each other, fought back and forth to high-scoring sets with the HEAT escaping with a 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 28-26 victory.
It’s no secret both teams’ success flows through their powerful outside hitters, the HEAT’s Victoria Trueheart and Cambridge’s Grace Nelson.
“They can both get airborne, they can both pound the ball. It’s fun to watch,” HEAT coach Mark Kachurak said. “It’s like they’re trading punches out there, that’s what it’s all about.”
Trueheart and Nelson did just that Tuesday, with Trueheart knocking down 20 kills to Nelson’s 18. The one-on-one battle was a reflection of the team battle. After taking the first set, Nelson won the one-on-one with Trueheart, smashing through her dig attempt. The Lancers won that set 25-22. In the third, Trueheart went to the net to block Nelson and stuffed her shot for a 25-20 HEAT win. In the fourth set, Nelson got a clean shot and Trueheart dug it out for a 28-26 win.
The HEAT’s Catherine Trueheart and Cambridge’s Veronica Hubbard each logged four blocks but when Trueheart and Nelson had a good set and good look, the shot hit the floor. Catherine Trueheart also had a match-high five aces, three during a 5-0 HEAT run in the first set.
Staff writers Rodney Page and Kelly Parsons, and correspondents Bryan Burns, Brandon Wright and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.