NEW PORT RICHEY — The title-clinching point elicited the type of celebration one might find if, say, Florida's football team had just defeated Georgia Southern instead of Georgia: nary a whoop, barely a squeal, hardly any hugs.
When River Ridge put the finishing kill on its businesslike 25-15, 25-16, 25-18 sweep of Ridgewood in Thursday night's Class 5A, District 7 final, the Royal Knights managed a few high fives, then walked to their bench.
It's not that they expected to defeat the Rams for the third time this season, or that district titles — the Knights now have won seven in a row — are becoming routine. To the contrary, River Ridge (23-4) is reserving its more raucous reactions for what they hope will be bigger celebrations ahead.
"We have goals to go to states this year," senior Alex Laton said.
If they distribute the ball and dominate at the net the way they did in the Rams' gym, that celebration they're holding out for just might occur.
Behind Laton (16 kills, seven blocks) and fellow 5-foot-11 hitter Leah Mitchell (seven blocks, seven aces, six kills), the Knights simply overwhelmed the Rams (14-9), especially up front. River Ridge appeared in jeopardy only once, falling behind 3-0 in Game 3 before scoring 15 of the next 19 points.
"They just beat us at the net and we were playing defensively the entire night," Rams coach Amber Starkey said. "We couldn't get anything going offensively."
Leery of a Rams team known for its ability to dig, the Knights benefited from solid ball movement, not to mention some sparkling defense. Senior Irene Townsend had 14 digs.
The front line took care of the rest. Sarah Junot and Rose Gilmartin combined for 11 blocks, and 5-foot-5 junior Gabby Gonzalez even added seven kills.
"Ridgewood had good defense. They get to a lot of balls, they dig a lot of things up, so I knew against them we'd have to put the ball down or else they're going to go dive and dig," said Knights coach Heidi Castelamare. "The girls did well putting the ball down."