LAKELAND — During its run to Friday's Class 4A state semifinals, Hudson grew accustomed to having a lead.
The first set usually belonged to the Cobras, especially during their run of 20 out of the past 21 matches heading into the Lakeland Center. But when Jensen Beach took the opening set, nervousness set in. The Cobras' eyes began creeping to the scoreboard.
"I caught myself looking at the score," senior Jessica Imbimbo said. "It's probably not a good habit but we did it."
Under first-year coach Shayna Munson, hired in August to take over for 19-year veteran Linda McQuade, the Cobras (27-4) scrapped and clawed in their first state appearance since 2004 but couldn't get over the hump, falling in three sets, 25-14, 25-19, 25-15.
"We fought hard the whole season," Munson said. "Ever since August, it wasn't an easy road for us, but we fought."
Still, the lead changed hands four times in the first and second sets, but after Jensen Beach erased an 8-7 Hudson lead in the second, the Cobras could never get it back.
"It seemed like every time we took a step forward, they took three steps," said Imbimbo, one of nine Cobras seniors. "They always seemed to be ahead."
Hudson senior Cara Carley led the Cobras with nine kills — and just one attack error — to go along with seven digs. Setter Lisa Kerns had 22 assists. Libero Jessica Christianson had eight digs, and Imbimbo added six kills.
Falcons junior setter Sarah Wickstrom (32 assists), a Florida State commit, kept the Cobras off balance, spreading the ball to a number of hitters. Middle hitter Brittany Tiegs, a UT prospect, led Jensen Beach (26-5) with 14 kills.
"We really kept Hudson guessing," Jensen Beach coach Mike Sawtelle said.
Jensen Beach's go-for-it-all serving strategy netted 10 aces but also nine service errors, which allowed Hudson to keep the match close.
"There was nothing to be ashamed of," Imbimbo said. "We worked so hard to get here. We were here for a reason. It's disappointing to lose, but we're winning just by being here."