WESLEY CHAPEL — Nature Coast had another one of those nights.
Lots of aces, plenty of kills and enough digs to fill a dump truck. It was another big night and another big win for the defending Class 4A, District 8 champions.
But even Sharks coach Dan Murphy had to admit he didn't expect to have such a tough fight Tuesday at Wiregrass Ranch.
Nature Coast went on to win in four games (21-25, 25-14, 28-26, 25-13). And though the Sharks (3-0) cruised late, they won't overlook the Bulls (2-2) , who should be fierce come district tournament time.
"Wiregrass caught us very much off guard," Murphy said. "Last year, they played us tough and they were more than ready for us tonight."
The Bulls did their most damage in Game 1 after trailing 10-4. But some strong serves by senior Tess Chase (nine kills, two aces, five blocks) helped Wiregrass Ranch go on a 15-8 scoring run.
"They found it in their hearts," Bulls coach Mindy Kantor said. "I just kept telling them to have confidence, believe in themselves and communicate. I have faith in them. They can do anything."
The Bulls had momentum and came out firing in Game 2 to take a 4-1 lead. But the Sharks had plenty of good serves from Alex Livingood (16 kills, nine aces), who helped them reclaim the lead at 7-6 before cruising.
The Sharks also got great play from Kayla Bailey (11 kills), Courtney Liddle (12 kills) and Randi Roppolo (13 kills).
"We could have played stronger and better," Murphy said. "Volleyball's a momentum game. They took it initially, and when they took it back, we took it back."
Game 3 proved to be pivotal as the teams played nip-tuck throughout. Each team held the lead four times with no one leading by more than four. The Bulls had two game points, but errors handcuffed Wiregrass and allowed the Sharks to take the game — and the momentum — 28-26.
The Sharks led the entire way in Game 4.
The Bulls, however, got the test and the boost they were looking for. They relied on freshman Jessica Johnson (three kills) with her ability to strike and defend. Sophomore Ellen Toneff (five kills), junior Colleen McCaffrey (six aces, four kills) and Chase give the Bulls a solid core of players capable of playing with the North Suncoast's top teams.
"They played their hearts out tonight against us and they played great defense," Murphy said. "They gave us all we could handle."
Ridgewood d. Land O'Lakes 25-14, 25-12, 25-11
At Ridgewood, the host Rams notched their first victory of the season with an impressive win over a district opponent. Junior middle hitter Sarangelys Cruz led Ridgewood with a team-high 10 kills. Senior setter Daylyn Williamson produced 25 service points.
"This was a big improvement from last week," Ridgewood coach Amber Starkey said. "Overall, everybody on the team played better. Everybody stepped up."
Wiregrass Ranch 153, Sunlake 180
At Plantation Palms, the Bulls improved to 4-1 behind the play of Dylan Larsen, who fired 1-under par 35. Logan Horrigan of Wiregrass added 38.
Sunlake (2-2) was led by Donald Eubanks, who shot 44.
River Ridge 184, Hudson 209
At Beacon Woods, Cory Altwies guided River Ridge (2-2) to the win with 3-over par 39. Jeff Kerns shot 44 for Hudson (0-5).