ST. PETERSBURG — Despite losing in three games to top-seeded and defending Class 2A state champion First Academy in the final of the Mustang Invitational, the East Lake volleyball team left the Northside Christian gym Saturday feeling confident after its tournament performance.
On Friday, the Eagles defeated Orangewood Christian and Northside Christian in four games, then rallied from a 2-0 deficit to clip Lake Worth Christian and finish pool play undefeated in the eight-team event.
In Saturday's semifinal against defending event champion Warner Christian, East Lake was dominant in a 25-16, 25-18, 25-22 win.
"Our team chemistry has been fantastic the past couple weeks," East Lake coach Terry Small said. "I wanted to see if we could keep that going against some great volleyball teams throughout the whole weekend. To me, we were successful with that."
However, East Lake (16-3) had no answer in the final for First Academy's Ansley Gebben. The tournament MVP provided the big points in crucial situations and had a game-high 22 kills in a 25-22, 25-18, 25-21 win.
In Game 1, East Lake held an 8-1 advantage and led 19-13 late before the Royals won eight consecutive points.
"You finish that game and it builds confidence for the rest of the match," Small said.
First Academy, which didn't lose a game in five tournament matches, went ahead 5-0 in Game 2 before East Lake rallied to tie. The Eagles got within 19-17 late, but First Academy won six of the next seven points.
Game 3 was a similar story. The Eagles were close late, trailing just 20-19, but the Royals made the crucial plays down the stretch.
"We've been working on a lot of blocking the last couple of weeks, a lot of fundamental stuff, and it's just really showing up now," Small said.
Brittnay Estes and Brianna McComeskey each finished with 11 kills for East Lake in the final. Setter Rachel Reed had 32 assists and three aces. Libero Andria Tagarelli had 14 digs.
Tagarelli and McComeskey were named to the all-tournament team. Other players earning the honor were: First Academy's Gebben, Abby Mixner and Gabby Shipe; Warner Christian's Alicia Lewis; Lake Worth Christian's Danielle Lampman; Clearwater Central Catholic's Vanessa Annoni; Orangewood Christian's Tina Nichols; Northside Christian's Kayla Walton; and Clearwater's Kayley Patrick.
In the silver bracket final, Clearwater beat host Northside Christian 25-23, 25-23, 24-26, 25-20 for fifth place. CCC lost to Orangewood Christian in the silver bracket consolation for eighth.